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He was lost by the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps. 

He was officially dead as a result of official misinforma- 

He was entombed by the French Government. 

It took the better part of three months to find him and 
bring him back to life — with the help of powerful and will- 
ing friends on both sides of the Atlantic. The following 
documents tell the story: 

104 Irving Street, 

Cambridge, December 8, 1917. 

President Woodrow Wilson, 
White House, 
Washington, D. C. 

Mr. President: 

It seems criminal to ask for a single moment of your time. 
But I am strongly advised that it would be more criminal to delay 
any longer calling to your attention a crime against American 
citizenship in which the French Government has persisted for 
many weeks — in spite of constant appeals made to the American 
Minister at Paris; and in spite of subsequent action taken by the 
State Department at Washington, on the initiative of my friend, 


The victims are two American ambulance drivers, Edward 
Estlin Cummings of Cambridge, Mass., and W — S — B — . . . 

More than two months ago these young men were arrested, 
subjected to many indignities, dragged across France like crim- 

inals, and closely confined in a Concentration Camp at La Ferte 
Mace; where, according to latest advices they still remain, — 
awaiting the final action of the Minister of the Interior upon the 
findings of a Commission which passed upon their cases as long 
ago as October 17. 

Against Cummings both private and official advices from Paris 
state that there is no charge whatever. He has been subjected 
to this outrageous treatment solely because of his intimate friend- 
ship with young B , whose sole crime is, — so far as can be 

learned, — that certain letters to friends in America were mis- 
interpreted by an over-zealous French censor. 

It only adds to the indignity and irony of the situation to say 
that young Cummings is an enthusiastic lover of France and so 
loyal to the friends he has made among the French soldiers, that 
even while suffering in health from his unjust confinement, he 
excuses the ingratitude of the country he has risked his life to 
serve by calling attention to the atmosphere of intense suspicion 
and distrust that has naturally resulted from the painful exper- 
ience which France has had with foreign emissaries. 

Be assured, Mr. President, that I have waited long — it seems 
like ages — and have exhausted all other available help before 
venturing to trouble you. 

1. After many weeks of vain effort to secure effective action 
by the American Ambassador at Paris, Richard Norton of the 
Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps to which the boys belonged, 
was completely discouraged, and advised me to seek help here. 

2. The efforts of the State Department at Washington resulted 
as follows : 

i. A cable from Paris saying that there was no charge against 
Cummings and intimating that he would speedily be released. 

ii. A little later a second cable advising that Edward Estlin 
Cummings had sailed on the Antilles and was reported lost. 

iii. A week later a third cable correcting this cruel error and 
saying the Embassy was renewing efforts to locate Cummings — 
apparently still ignorant even of the place of his confinement. 

After such painful and baffling experiences, I turn to you, — 
burdened though I know you to be, in this world crisis, with the 
weightiest task ever laid upon any man. 

But I have another reason for asking this favor. I do not 
speak for my son alone; or for him and his friend alone. My 
son has a mother — as brave and patriotic as any mother who 
ever dedicated an only son to a great cause. The mothers of our 
boys in France have rights as well as the boys themselves. My 

boy's mother had a right to be protected from the weeks of 
horrible anxiety and suspense caused by the inexplicable arrest 
and imprisonment of her son. My boy's mother had a right to be 
spared the supreme agony caused by a blundering cable from Paris 
saying that he had been drowned by a submarine. (An error which 
Mr. Norton subsequently cabled that he had discovered six weeks 
before.) My boy's mother and all American mothers have a right 
to be protected against all needless anxiety and sorrow. 

Pardon me, Mr. President, but if I were President and your son 
were suffering such prolonged injustice at the hands of France; 
and your son's mother had been needlessly kept in Hell as many 
weeks as my boy's mother has, — I would do something to make 
American citizenship as sacred in the eyes of Frenchmen as 
Roman citizenship was in the eyes of the ancient world. Then it 
was enough to ask the question, "Is it lawful to scourge a man 
that is a Roman, and uncondemned?" Now, in France, it seems 
lawful to treat like a condemned criminal a man that is an 
American, uncondemned and admittedly innocent! 

Very respectfully, 


This letter was received at the White House. Whether it was 
received with sympathy or with silent disapproval is still a 
mystery. A Washington official, a friend in need and a friend 
indeed in these trying experiences, took the precaution to have it 
delivered by messenger. Otherwisei, fear that it had been "lost 
in the mail" would have added another twinge of uncertainty to 
the prolonged and exquisite tortures inflicted upon parents by 
alternations of misinformation and official silence. Doubtless the 
official stethoscope was on the heart of the world just then; and 
perhaps it was too much to expect that even a post-card would 
be wasted on private heart-aches. 

In any event this letter told where to look for the missing 
boys, — something the French government either could not or 
would not disclose, in spite of constant pressure by the American 
Embassy at Paris and constant efforts by my friend Richard 
(Norton, who was head of the Norton-Harjes Ambulance organiza- 
tion from which they had been abducted. 

Release soon followed, as narrated in the following letter to 
Major : of the staff of the Judge Advocate General in Paris. 


,, ^ February 20, 1921. 

My dear 1 

Your letter of January 30th, which I have been waiting for with 
great interest ever since I received your cable, arrived this 
morning. My son arrived in New York on January 1st. He was 
in bad shape physically as a result of his imprisonment: very 
much under weight, suffering from a bad skin infection which he 
had acquired at the concentration camp. However, in view of 
the extraordinary facilities which the detention camp offered for 
acquiring dangerous diseases, he is certainly to be congratulated 
on having escaped with one of the least harmful. The medical 
treatment at the camp was quite in keeping with the general 
standards of sanitation there; with the result that it was not 
until he began to receive competent surgical treatment after 
his release and on board ship that there was much chance of 
improvement. A month of competent medical treatment here 
seems to have got rid of this painful reminder of official hospitality. 
He is, at present, visiting friends in New York. If he were here, 
I am sure he would join with me and with his mother in thanking 
you for the interest you have taken and the efforts you have made. 

W S B is, I am happy to say, expected in New 

York this week by the S. S. Niagara. News of his release and 
subsequently of his departure came by cable. What you say 
about the nervous strain under which he was living, as an explana- 
tion of the letters to which the authorities objected, is entirely 
borne out by first-hand information. The kind of badgering which 
the youth received was enough to upset a less sensitive temper- 
ment. It speaks volumes for the character of his environment 
that such treatment aroused the resentment of only one of his 
companions, and that even this manifestation of normal human 
sympathy was regarded as "suspicious." If you are right in 

characterizing B 's condition as more or less hysterical, what 

shall we say of the conditions which made possible the treatment 

which he and his friend received? I am glad B wrote the 

very sensible and manly letter to the Embassy, which you mention. 
After I have had an opportunity to converse with him, I shall be 
in better position to reach a conclusion in regard to certain 
matters about which I will not now express an opinion. 

I would only add that I do not in the least share your 
complacency in regard to the treatment which my son received. 
The very fact that, as you say, no charges were made and that 
he was detained on suspicion for many weeks after the Commis- 
sion passed on his case and reported to the Minister of the 
Interior that he ought to be released, leads me to a conclusion 
exactly opposite to that which you express. It seems to me 
impossible to believe that any well-ordered government would 


fail to acknowledge such action to have been unreasonable. 
Moreover, "detention on suspicion" wa.s a small part of what 
actually took place. To take a single illustration, you will recall 
that after many weeks' persistent effort to secure information, 
the Embassy was still kept so much in the dark about the facts, 
that it cabled the report that my son had embarked on The 
Antilles and was reported lost. And when convinced of that 
error, the Embassy cabled that it was renewing efforts to locate 
my son. Up to that moment, it would appear that the authorities 
had not even condescended to tell the United States Embassy 
where this innocent American citizen was confined; so that a 
mistaken report of his death was regarded as an adequate explana- 
tion of his disappearance. If I had accepted this report and taken 
no further action, it is by no means certain that he would not 
be dead by this time. 

I am free to say, that in my opinion no self-respecting govern- 
ment could allow one of its own citizens, against whom there has 
been no accusation brought, to be subjected to such prolonged 
indignities and injuries by a friendly government without vigorous 
remonstrance. I regard it as a patriotic duty, as well as a matter 
of personal self-respect, to do what I can to see that such 
remonstrance is made. I still think too highly both of my own 
government and of the government of France to believe that 
such an untoward incident will fail to receive the serious attention 
it deserves. If I am wrong, and American citizens must expect 
to suffer such indignities and injuries at the hands of other govern- 
ments without any effort at remonstrance and redress by their own 
government, I believe the public ought to know the humiliating 
truth. It will make interesting reading. It remains for my son 
to determine what action he will take. 

I am glad to know your son is returning. I am looking forward 
with great pleasure to conversing with him. 

I cannot adequately express my gratitude to you and to other 
friends for the sympathy and assistance I have received. If any 
expenses have beein incurred on my behalf or on behalf of my 
son. I beg you to give me the pleasure of reimbursing you. At 
best, I must always remain your debtor. 

With best wishes, 

Sincerely yours, 


I yield to no one in enthusiasm for the cause of France. Her 
cause was our cause and the cause of civilization; and the tragedy 
is that it took us so long to find it out. I would gladly have risked 
my life for her, as my son risked his and would have risked it again 


had not the departure of his regiment overseas been stopped by 
the armistice. 

France was beset with einemies within as well as without. 
Some of the "suspects" were members of her official household. 
Her Minister of Interior was thrown into prison. She was| 
distracted with fear. Her existence was at stake. Under such 
circumstances excesses were sure to be committed. But it is 
precisely at such times that American citizens most need and are 
most entitled to the protection of their own government. 




Introduction v >j >: . i-vi 

I. I Begin a Pilgrimage . . ., . ^ > • 9 

II. En Route ............. 26 

III. A Pilgrim's Progress . . .. . ., . . 38 

IV. Le Nouveau r.. . • • . . . . i«i . . 58 
V. A Group of Portraits ..... i., . . 98 

VI. Apollyon . . 120 

VII. An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 144 

VIII. The Wanderer ........... 174 

IX. Zoo-loo ................ 186 

X. Surplice ............... 205 

XI. Jean Le Negre .., . i., . 218 

XII. Three Wise Men ...... i,i . ... 239 

XIII. I Say Goodbye to La Misere ...... 255 




[jn October, 1917, [we had succeeded, my friend B^and I, 
in dispensing with almost three of our six month's engage- 
ment as Voluntary Drivers. Sanitary Section 21 , Ambulance 
Norton Harjes, American Red Cross, and at the moment which 
subsequent experience served to capitalize, had just finished the 
unlovely job of cleaning and greasing {nettoyer is the proper 
word) the own private flivver of the chief of section, a 
gentleman by the convenient name of Mr. A. To borrow a 
characteristi^adence from Our Great President : the lively 
satisfaction which we might be suspected of having derived 
from the accomplishment of a task so important in the saving 
of civilization from the clutches of Prussian tyrai^ was in 
some degree inhibited, unhappily, by a complete absence of 
cordial relations between the man whom fate had placed over 
us and ourselves. Or, to use the vulgar American idiom, ^q 
and I and Mr. A. didn't get on well. We were in fundamental 
disagreement as to the attitude which we, Americans, should 
uphold toward the poilus in whose behalf we had volunteered 
assistance, Mr. A. maintaining *iou boys want to keep away 
from those dirty Frenchmen" and "we're here to show those 
bastards how they do things in "^meriea^") to which we 
answered by seizing every opportumty for fraternization. 
Inasmuch as eight CSdirty Frenchmeii^were attached to the 
section in various capacities (cook, provisioner, chauffeur, 
mechanician, etc.) and the section itself was affiliated with a 
branch of the French army, fraternization was easy. Now 

lo The Enormous Room 

when he saw that we had not the sHghtest intention of adopting 
his ideals, Mr. A. (together with the sous-lj ^Mismml who 
acted as his translator — for the chief's knowledge of the French 
language, obtained during several years' heroic service, con- 
sisted for the most part in ''Sar vaip^ ''Sar marche/' and 
"Deet donk moan vieux") confined his efforts to denying us 
the privilege of acting as driver s, on the ground that our 
personal appearance was a disgrace to the section. In this, I 
am bound to say, Mr. A. was but sustaining the tradition 
conceived originally by his predecessor, a Mr. P., a Harvard 
man, who until his departure from Vingt-et-Un succeeded in 
making life absolutely miserable for Br^nd myself. Before 
leaving this painful subject I beg to state that, at least as far 
as I was concerned, the tradition had a firm foundation in 
my own predisposition for uncouthness plus what Le Matin 
(if we remember correctly) cleverly nicknamed La Boue 

Having accomplished the nettoyage (at which we were 
"by this time adepts, thanks to Mr, A's habit of detailing us 
to wash any car which its driver and aide might consider too 
dirty a task for their own hands) we proceeded in search of 
a little water for personal use. B. speedily finished his 
ablutions. I was strolling carelessly and solo from the cook- 
wagon toward one of the two tents — which protestingly housed 
some forty huddling Americans by night — holding in my hand 
an historic more e an de chocolat, when a spic, not to say span, 
gentleman in a suspiciously quiet French uniform allowed 
himself to be driven up to the bureau by two neat soldiers 
with tin derbies, in a Renault whose painful cleanliness shamed 
my recent efforts. This must be a general at least, I thought, 
regretting the extremely undress character of my uniform, 
which uniform consisted of overalls and a cigarette. 

Having furtively watched the gentleman alight and re- 
ceive a ceremonious welcome from the chief and the afore- 
said French lieutenant who accompanied the section for 
translatory reasons^ I hastily betook myself to one of the 

The Enormous Room 11 

tents, where I found B. engaged in dragging all his belong- 
ings into a central pile of frightening proportions. He was 
surrounded by a group of fellow-heroes who hailed my 
coming with considerable enthusiasm. "Your bunky's leav- 
ing" said somebody. "Going to Paris" volunteered a man 
who had been trying for three months to get there. "Prison 
you mean" remarked a confirmed optimist whose disposi- 
tion had felt the effects of French climate.^.^ 

Albeit confused by the eloquence of B*s) unalterable 
silence, I immediately associated his present predicament 
with the advent of the mysterious stranger, and forthwith 
dashed forth, bent on demanding from one of the tin- 
derbies the high identity and sacred mission of this per- 
sonage. I knew that with the exception of ourselves every- 
one in the section had been given his ^even days' leave— 
even two men who had arrived later than we and whose 
turn should, consequently, have come after ours. I also 
knew that at the headquarters of the Ambulance, / rue 
Frangois Premier, was^Monsieur Norton, the supreme head 
of the Norton Harjes fraternity, who had known my father 
in other days. Putting two and two together I decided that 
this potentate had sent an emissary to Mr. A. to demand 
an explanation of the various and sundry insults and indig- 
nities to which I and my friend had been subjected, and 
more particularly to secure our long-delayed permission. 
Accordingly I was in high spirits as I rushed toward the 

I didn't have to go far. The mysterious one, in conver- 
sation with monsieur le sous-lieutenant, met me half-way. 
I caught the words: "And Cummings" (the first and last 
time that my name was correctly pronounced by a French- 
man), "where is he?" 

"Present" I said, giving a salute to which neither of them 
paid the slightest attention. 

"Ah yes" impenetrably remarked the mysterious one in 
positively sanitary English. "You shall put all your bag- 
gige in the car, at once" — ^then, to tin-derby-the-first, who 

12 The Enormous Room 

appeared in an occult manner at his master^s elbow — "Go 
\ yith him, get his baggage, at once /' 
-^ My thing s were mostly in the vicinity of the cuisine, where 
lodged the cuisinier, mechanician^ menusier^ etc., who had made 
room for me (some ten days smce) on their own initiative, 
thus saving me the humiliation of sleeping with nineteen 
Americans in a tent which was always two-thirds full of mud. 
Thither I led the tin-derby, who scrutinized everything with 
urprising interest. I threw mes affaires\\Y together (in- 
cluding some minor accessories which I was going to leave 
behind, but which the t-d bade me include) and emerged 
with a duffle-bag under one arm and a bed-roll under the 
other, to encounter my excellent friends, the *^rty Freiich- 
Qien," aforesaid. They all popped out together from one door, 
looking rather astonished. Something by way of explanation 
as well as farewell was most certainly required, so I made a 
speech in my best French : 

"Gentlemen, friends, comrades — I am going away imme- 
diately and shall be guillotined tomorrow." 

— "Oh hardly guillotined I should say," remarked t-d, in a 
voice which froze my marrow despite my high spirits; while 
the cook and carpenter gaped audibly and the mechanician 
clutched a hopelessly smashed carburetor for support. 

One of the section's voitures, a F. I. A. T., was standing 
ready. General Nemo sternly forbade me to approach the 
Renault (in which B's baggage was already deposited) and 
waved me into the F.LA.T., bed, bedroll and all; where- 
upon t-d leaped in and seated himself opposite me in a 
position of perfect unrelaxatiofrTVhich, despite, my afore- 
said exultation at quitting the dmion in general and Mr. A. 
In particular, impressed me as being almost menacing. 
Through the front window I saw my friend drive away 
with t-d,/^mber 2 and Nemo; then, having waved hasty 
farewell to all les^^^ericains that I knew — ^three in number — 
and having exchWged affectionate greetings with Mr. A. 

The Enormous Room , K^^uo 13 

/ ;- — hoi Nu^edw^ 

(who admitted he was very sorry indeed to lose us), I ex- 
perienced the jolt of the clutc^^nd we were off in pursuit. 

Whatever may have been tneforebodings inspired by t-d 
^umber I's attitude, they were completely annihilated by 
the thrilling joy which I experienced on losing sight of 
the accursed section and its asinine inhabitants — by the in- 
disputable and authentic thrill of going somewhere and no- 
where, under the miraculous auspices of someone and no 
one — of being yanked from the putrescent banalities of an 
official non-existence into a high and clear adventure, by a 
deus ex machina in a grey-blue uniform, and a couple of 
tin derbies. I whistled and sang and cried to my vis-a-vis: 
"By the way, who is yonder distinguished gentleman who 
has been so good as to take my friend and me on this 
little promenade?" — to which, between lurches of the 
groaning F.I.A.T., t-d replied awesomely, clutching at the 
window for the benefit of his equilibrium: "Monsieur le 
Ministre de Surete de Noyon." 

Not in the least realizing what this might mean, I grinned. 
A responsive grin, visiting informally the tired cheeks of 
my confrrre, ended by frankly connecting his worthy and 
enormous ears which were squeezed into oblivion by the 
oversize casque. My eyes, jumping from those ears, lit 
on that helmet and noticed for the first time an emblem, a 
sort of flowering little explosion, or hair-switch rampant. 
It seemed to me very jovial and a little absurd. 

"We're on our way to Noyon, then?" 

T-d shrugged his shoulders. 

Here the driver's hat blew off. I heard him swear, and 
saw the hat sailing in our wake. I jumped to my feet as 
the F.I.A.T. came to a sudden stop, and started for the 
ground — then checked my flight in mid-air and landed on 
the seat, completely astonished. T-d's revolver, which had 
hopped from its holster at my first move, slid back into 
its nest. The owner of the revolver was muttering some- 
thing rather disagreeable. The driver (being an American 
of Vingt-et-Un) was backing up instead of retrieving his 

14 The Enormous Room 

cap in person. My mind felt as if it had been thrown sud- 
denly from fourth into reverse. I pondered and said 

On again — faster, to make up for lost time. On the 
correct assumption that t-d does not understand English 
the driver passes the time of day through the minute 
window : 

"For Christ's sake, Cummings, what's up?" ^^ 

"You got me," I said, laughing at the delicate rikrvete of 
the question, 

"Did y' do something to get pinched?" 

"Probably," I answered importantly and vaguely, feeling 
a new diginity. 

sO "Well, if you didn't, maybe B did." 

[ ^- ^^^^ "Mayb^i/I countered, trying not to appear enthusiastic. 

f As a mat^r of fact I was never so excited and proud . I 

u was, to be sure, a crhninal! Well, well, thank God that 

\ settled one question for good and all — no more Section 

\^anitaire for me ! No more Mr. A. and his daily lectures 

.on cleanliness, deportment, etcL ! in spite of myself I started 

to sing. The driver interruptiga : 

"I heard you asking the tin lid something in French. 

"Said that gink in the Renault is the head cop of Noyon," 
I answered at random. 

"GOODNIGHT. Maybe we'd better ring off, or you'll 
get in wrong with" — he indicated t-d with a wave of his 
head that communicated itself to the car in a magnificent 
skid; and t-d's derby rang out as the skid pitched t-d the 
length of the F.I.A.T. 

"You rang the bell then," I commented — then to t-d : 
"Nice car for the wounded to ride in," I politely observed. 
T-d answered nothing. . . . 


We drive straight up to something which looks unpleas- 
antly like a feudal dungeon. The driver is now told to be 
somewhere at a certain time, and meanwhile to eat with 


The Enormous Room 15 

the Head Cop, who may be found just around the corner — 
(I am doing the translating for t-d) — and, oh yes, it seems 
that the Head Cop has particularly requested the pleasure 
of this distinguished American's company at dejeuner. 

"Does he mean me?" the driver asked innocently. 

"Sure," I told him. 

Nothing is said of B or me. 

Now, cautiously, t-d first and I a slow next, we descend. 
The F.LA.T. rumbles off, with the distinguished one's back- 
ward-glaring head poked out a yard more or less and that 
distinguished face so completely surrendered to mystifica- 
tion as to cause a large laugh on my part. 

" You are hungry?" 

It was the erstwhile-ferocious speaking. A criminal, I 
remembered, is somebody against whom everything he says 
and does is very cleverly made use of. After weighing 
the matter in my mind for some moments I decided at all 
cost to tell the truth, and replied: 

"I could eat an elephant." 

Hereupon t-d lead me to the Kitchen Itself, set me to 
eat upon a stool, and admonished the cook in a fierce voice : 

"Give this great criminal something to eat in the name 
of the French Republic!" 

And for the first time in three months I tasted Food. 

T-d seated himself beside me, opened a huge jack-knife, 
and fell to, after first removing his tin derby and loosening 
his belt. 

One of the pleasantest memories connected with that 
irrevocable meal is of a large, gentle, strong woman who 
entered in a hurry, and seeing me cried out: 

"What is it?" 

"It's an American, my mother,'' t-d answered through 
fried potatoes. 

"Why is he here?" the woman touched me on the 
shoulder, and satisfied herself that I was real. 

"The good God is doubtless acquainted with the explana- 
tion," said t-d pleasantly. "Not myself being the—" 

1 6 The Enormous Room 

"Ah, mon pauvre," said this very beautiful sort of woman. 
"You are going to be a prisoner here. Everyone of the 
prisoners has a marraine, do you understand? I am their 
marraine. I love them and look after them. Well, listen: I 
will be your marraine, too." 

I bowed and looked around for something to pledge her 
in. T-d was watching. My eyes fell on a huge glass of red 
pinard. "Yes, drink," said my captor, with a smile. I raised 
my huge glass. 

"^ la sante de ma marraine charm^ante !" 

— This deed of gallantary quite won the cook (a smallish, 
agile Frenchman) who shovelled several helps of potatoes 
on my already empty plate. The tin derby approved also : 
"That's right, eat, drink, you'll need it later perhaps." And 
his knife guillotined another delicious hunk of white 

At last, sated with luxuries, I bade adieu to my marraine and 
allowed t-d to conduct me (I going first, as always) upstairs 
and into a little den whose interior boasted two mattresses, 
a man sitting at the table, and a newspaper in the hands of 
the man. 

"C'est un Americain," t-d said by way of introduction. The 
newspaper detached itself from the man who said: "He's 
welcome indeed: make yourself at home, Mr. American" — 
and bowed himself out. My captor immediately collapsed on 
one mattress. 

I asked permission to do the same on the other, which 
favor was sleepily granted. With half -shut eyes my Ego lay 
and pondered: the delicious meal it had just enjoyed; what 
was to come; the joys of being a great criminal . . . then, 
being not at all inclined to sleep, I read Le Petit Parisien quite 
through, even to Les Voies Urinaires, 

Which reminded me — and I woke up t-d and asked : "May 
I visit the vespasienne?" 

"Downstairs," he replied fuzzily, and readjusted his 

There was no one moving about in the little court.. I 

I Begin A Pilgrimage 17 

lingered somewhat on the way upstairs. The stairs were 
abnormally dirty. When I reentered, t-d was roaring to 
himself. I read the journal through again. It must have been 
about three o'clock. 

Suddenly t-d woke up, straightened and buckled his per- 
sonality, and murmured: "It's time, come on." 

Le bureau de Monsieur le Ministre was just around the cor- 
ner, as it proved. Before the door stood the patient F.I.A.T. 
I was ceremoniously informed by t-d that we would wait on 
the steps. 

Well ! Did I know any more ? — ^the American driver wanted 
to know. 

Having proved to my own satisfaction that my fingers could 
still roll a pretty good cigarette, I answered: "No," between 

The; American drew nearer and whispered spectacularly: 
"Your friend is upstairs. I think they're examining him." 
T-d^ot this; and though his rehabilitated dignity had accepted 
the (^akii^^'sy from its prisoner, it became inimediately in- 
censed : 

"That's enough," he said sternly. 

And dragged me tout-d-coup upstairs, where I met B. and 
his t-d coming out of the bureau door. B. looked peculiarly 
cheerful. "I think we're going to prison all right," he as- 
sured me. 

Braced by this news, poked from behind by my t-d, and 
waved on from before by M. le Ministry himself, I floated 
vaguely into a very washed, neat, bUsiness-like and altogether 
American room of modest proportions, whose door was im- 
mediately shut and guarded on the inside by my escort. 

Monsieur le Ministre said: 

"Lift your arms.'' 

Then he went through my pockets. He found cigarettes, 
pencils, a jack-knife and several francs. He laid his treas- 
ures on a clean table and said : "You are not allowed to keep 
these. I shall be responsible." Then he looked me coldly in 
the eye and asked if I had anything else? 

1 8 The Enormous Room 

I told him that I believed I had a handkerchief. 

He asked me: "Have you anything in your shoes?" 

**My feet," I said, gently. 

"Come this w^ay," he said frigidly, opening a door which I 
had not remarked. I bowed in acknowledgment of the cour- 
tesy, and entered room number 2. 

I looked into six eyes which sat at a desk. 

Two belonged to a lawyerish person in civilian clothes, with 
a bored expression, plus a moustache of dreamy proportions 
with which the owner constantly imitated a gentleman ringing 
for a drink. Two .apP^^^taiaed to a splendid old 4otard (a 
face all ski-jumps and toboggan slides), on whose promid- 
ing chest the rosette of the Legion pompously squatted. Num- 
bers fivq and six had reference to Monsieur, who had seated 
himself before I had time to focus my slightly bewildered eyes. 

Monsieur spoke sanitary English, as I have said. 

"What is your name?'' — "Edward E. Cummings." — "Your 
second name?" — "E-s-t-1-i-n," I spelled it for him- — "How do 
you say that?" — I didn't understand. — "How do you say your 
name?" — "Oh,'' I said; and pronounced it. He explained in 
French to the mustache that my first name was Edouard, my 
second "A-s-tay-1-ee-n," and my third "Kay-u-mm-ee-n-gay-s" 
— and the mustache wrote it all down. Monsieur then turned 
to me once more: 

"You are Irish ?"— "No," I said, "American."— "You are 
Irish by family?" — "No, Scotch." — "You are sure that there 
was never an Irishman in your parents ?' — "So far as I know," 
I said, "there never was an Irishman there.": — "Perhaps a hun- 
dred years back?" he insisted — "Not a chance," I said de- 
cisively. But Monsieur was not to be denied : "Your name it 
is Irish ?'' — "Cummings is a very old Scotch name," I told him 
fluently, "it used to be Comyn. A Scotchman named The Red 
Comyn was killed by Robert Bruce in a church. He was my 
ancestor and a very well-known man." — "But your second 
name, where have you got that?" — "From an Englishman, a 
friend of my father." This statement seemed to produce a 
very favorable impression in the case of the rosette, who mur- 

I Begin A Pilgrimage f\* 19 

mured : "Un ami de son pere,. un Anglais, honT several times. 
Monsieur quite evidently disappointed, told the mustache in 
French to write down that I denied my Irish parentage ; which 
the mustache did. 

*'What does your father in America?" — "He is a minister 
of the gospel," I answered. **Which church?" — "Unitarian." 
This puzzled him. After a moment he had an inspiration: 
"That is the same as a Free Thinker?" — I explained in French 
that it wasn't and that mon pere was a holy man. At last 
Monsieur told the mustache to write : Proteistant ; and the mus- 
tache obediently did so. 

From this point on our conversation was carried on in 
French, somewhat to the chagrin of Monsieur, but to the joy 
of the rosette and with the approval of the mustache. In an- 
swer to questions, I informed them that I was a student for 
five years at Harvard (expressing great surprise that they hac 
never heard of Harvard), that I had come to New York an( 
studied painting, that I had enlisted in New York as conducteui 
voluntaire, embarking for France shortly after, about the mid] 
die of April. 

Monsieur asked : "You met B on the paquehot?'* I 

said I did. 

Monsieur glanced significantly around. The rosette nodded 
a number of times. The mustache rang. 

I understood that these kind people were planning to make 
me out the innocent victim of a wily villain, and could not 
forbear a smile. Cest rigoler, I said to myself ; they'll have a 
great time doing it. 

"You and your friend were together in Paris?" I said *yes." 
"How long?" "A month, while we were waiting for our uni- 

A significant look by Monsieur, which is echoed by his con 

Leaning forward Monsieur asked coldly and carefully: 
"What did you do in Paris ?" to which I responded briefly and 
warmly : "We had a good time." 

This reply pleased the rosette hugely. He wagged his head 

20 The Enormous Room 

till I thought it would have tumbled off. Even the mustache 
seemed amused. Monsieur le Ministre de la Surete de Noyon 
bit his lip. ''Never mind writing that down," he directed the 
lawyer. Then, returning to the charge : 

''You had a great deal of trouble with Lieutenant A. ?" 

I laughed outright at this complimentary nomenclature. 
"Yes, we certainly did.'' 

He asked: "Why?" — so I sketched "Lieutenant" A. in vivid 
terms, making use of certain choice expressions with which 
one of the "dirty Frenchmen" attached to the section, a Pa- 
risien, master of argot, had furnished me. My phraseology 
surprised my examiners, one of whom (I think the mustache) 
observed sarcastically that I had made good use of my time in 

Monsieur le Ministre asked: Was it true (a) that B. and I 
were always together and (b) preferred the company of the 
attached Frenchmen to that of our fellow-Americans? — to 
which I answered in the affirmative. Why? he wanted to 
know. So I explained that we felt that the more French we 
knew and the better we knew the French the better for us; 
expatiating a bit on the necessity for a complete mutual un- 
derstanding of the Latin and Anglo-Saxon races if victory was 
to be won. 

Again the rosette nodded with approbation. 

Monsieur 1© Ministre may have felt that he was losing his 
case, for he played his trump card immediately: "You are 
aware that your friend has written to friends in America and 
to his family very bad letters." "I am not,'' I said. 

In a flash I understood the motivation of Monsieur's visit 
to Vingt-et-Un: the French censor had intercepted some o£ 
B.'s letters, and had notified Mr. A. and Mr. A.'s translator, 
both of whom had thankfully testified to the .J character of 
B. and (wishing very naturally to get rid of both of us at once) 
had further averred that we were always together and that 
consequently I might properly be regarded as a suspicious 
character. Whereupon they had received instructions to hold 
us at the section until Noyon could arrive and take charge — 

I Begin A Pilgrimage 21 

hence our failure to obtain our long-overdue permission. 

"Your friend," said Monsieur in English, "is here a short 
while ago. I ask him if he is up in the aeroplane flying over 
Germans will he drop the bombs on Germans and he say no, 
he will not drop any bombs on Germans.'' 

By this falsehood (such it happened to be) I confess that I 
was nonplussed. In the first place, I was at the time innocent 
of third-degree methods. SecondlyOl remembered that, a 
week or so since, B., myself and anoiner American in the sec- 
tion had written a letter — which, on the advice of the sous- 
lieutenant who accompanied Vingt-et-Un as translator, we had 
addressed to the Under-Secretary of State in French Aviation 
— asking that inasmuch as the American Government was 
about to take over the Red Cross (which meant that all the 
Sanitary Sections would be affiliated with the American, and 
no longer with the French, Army) we three at any rate might 
be allowed to continue our association with the French by en- 
listing in r Esquadrille Lafayette . One of the "dirty French- 
men" had written the letter tor us in the finest language im- 
aginable, from data supplied by ourselves. 

"You write a letter, your friend and you, for French avia- 

Here I corrected him : there were three of us ; and why 
didn't he have the third culprit arrested, might I ask ? But he 
ignored this little digression, and wanted to know : Why not 
American aviation? — to which I answered: "Ah, but as my 
friend has so often said to me, the Fremch are after all the 
finest people in the world." 

This double-blow stopped Noyon dead, but only for a 

"Did your friend write this letter?'' — "No," I answered 
truthfully.— "Who did write it?"— "One of the Frenchmen at- 
tached to the section." "What is his name?"- — "I'm sure I 

don't know," I answered; mentally swearing that, whatever 
might happen to me the scribe should not suffer. "At my 
urgent request," I added. 
, Relapsing into French, Monsieur asked me if I would have 

22 The Enormous Room 

any hesitation in dropping bombs on Germans? I said no, I 
wouldn't. And why did I suppose I was fitted to become avia- 
tor? Because, I told him, I weighed 135 pounds and could 
drive any kind of auto or motorcycle. (I hoped he would 
make me prove this assertion, in which case I promised my- 
self that I wouldn't stop till I got to Munich; but no.) 

"Do you mean to say that my friend was not only trying to 
avoid serving in the American Army but was contemplating 
treason as well?" I asked. 

"Well, that would be it, would it not?" he/ answered coolly. 
Then, leaning forward once more, he fired at me: "Why did 
you write to an official so high ?" 

At this I laughed outright. "Because the excellent sons- 
lieutenant who translated when Mr. Lieutenant A. couldn't 
understand advised us to do so." 

Following up this sortie, I addressed the mustache: "Write 
this down in the testimony — ^that I, here present, refuse utterly 
to bejieve that my friend is not as sincere a lover of France 
and the French people as any man living! — Tell him to write 
it," I commanded Noyon stonily. But Noyon shook his head, 
saying: "We have the very best reason for supposing your 
friend to be no friend of France." I answered : "That is not 
my affair. I want my opinion of my friend written in; do you 
see?" "That's reasonable," the rosette murmured; and the 
mustache wrote it down. 

"Why do you think we volunteered?" I asked sarcastically, 
when the testimony was complete. 

Monsieur le Ministre was evidently rather uncomfortable. 
He writhed a little in his chair, and tweaked his chin three or 
four times. The rosette and the mustache were exchanging 
animated phrases. At last Noyon, motioning for silence and 
speaking in an almost desperate tone, demanded : 

"Est-ce-que vous detestes les hoches?" 

I had won my own case. The question was purely perfunc- 
tory. To walk out of the room a free man I had merely to 
say yes. My examiners were sure of my answer. The rosette 
was leaning forward and smiling encouragingly. The mus- 

I Begin A Pilgrimage 23 

tache was making little ouis in the air with his pen. And 
Noyon had given up all hope of making me out a criminal. I 
might be rash, but I was innocent ; the dupe of a superior and 
malign intelligence. I would probably be admonished to 
choose my friends more carefully next time and that would 
be all. . . . 

Deliberately, I framed the answer: 

^'Non. J'aime beaucoup les frangais." 

Agile as a weasel, Monsieur le Ministre was on top of me : 
"It is impossible to love Frenchmen and not to hate Ger- 

I did not mind his triumph in the least. The discomfiture 
of the rosette merely amused me. The surprise of the mus- 
tache I found very pleasant. 

Poor rosette ! He kept murmuring desperately : "Fond of 
his friend, quite right. Mistaken of course, too bad, meant 

With a supremely disagreeable expression on his immacu- 
late face the victorious minister of security pressed his vic- 
tim with regained assurance : "But you are doubtless aware 
of the atrocities committed by the boches?'' 

"I have read about them," I replied very cheerfully. 

"You do not believe?" 


"And if they are so, which of course they are" (tone of 
profound conviction) "you do not detest the Germans?" 

"Oh, in that casei, of course anyone must detest them," I 
averred with perfect politeness. 

And my case was lost, forever lost. I breathed freely once 
more. All my nervousness was gone. The attempt of the 
three gentlemen sitting before me to endow my friend and 
myself with different fates had irrevocably failed. 

At the conclusion of a short conference I was told by Mon- 
sieur : 

"I am sorry for you, but due to your friend you will be de- 
tained a little while." 

I asked: "Several weeks?" 


The Enormous Room 

"Possibly," said Monsieur. 

This concluded the trial. 

Monsieur le Ministre conducted me into room number 1 
again. "Since I have taken your cigarettes and shall keep 
them for you, I will give you some tobacco. Do you prefer 
English or French?'' 

Because the French (paquef bleu) are stronger and because 
he expected me to say English, I said "French." 

With a sorrowful expression Noyon went to a sort of book- 
case and took down a blue packet. I think I asked for matches, 
or else he had given back the few which ,he found on my 

Noyon, t-d and the grand criminal (alias I) now descended 
solemnly to the F.I.A.T. The more and more mystified con- 
ducteur conveyed us a short distance to what was obviously 
a prison-yard. Monsieur le Ministre watched me descend my 
voluminous baggage. 

This was carefully examined by Monsieur at the bureau of 
the prison. Monsieur made me turn everything topsy-turvy 
and inside out. Monsieur expressed great surprise at a huge 
shell : where did I get it? — I said a French soldier gave it to 
me as a souvenir. — And several tetes d'obus? — also souvenirs, 
I assured him merrily. Did Monsieur suppose I was caught 
in the act of blowing up the French Government, or what 
Cjxactly ? — But here are a dozen sketch-books, what is in them ? 
— Oh, Monsieur, you flatter me: drawings. — Of fortifications? 
Hardly; o f^ poilus, children, and other ruins. — Ummmm. (Mon- 
sieur examined the drawings and found that I had spoken 
the truth.) Monsieur puts all these trifles into a small bag, 
with which I had been furnished (in addition to the huge duf- 
fle-bag) by the generous Red Cross. Labels them (in 
French) : "Articles found inthe baggage of Cummings and 
deemed inutile to the case at hand." This leaves in the duf- 
fle-bag aloresaid : my fur coat, which I brought from New 
York; my bed and blankets and bed-roll, my civilian clothes, 
and about twenty-five pounds of soiled linen. "You may take 

I Begin A Pilgrimage 27 

the bed-roll and the folding bed into your cell" — the rcvere 
my affaires would remain in safe keeping at the bureau. ^1 
"Come with me/' grimly croaked a lank turnkey-creature. — 
Bed-roll and bed in hand, I came along. """ ^ P -IS 

We had but a short distance to go ; several steps in fact. I ' 
remember we turned a corner and somehow got sight of a sort 
of square near the prison. A military band was executing 
itself to the stolid delight of some handfuls of ragged civile s. 
My new captor paused a moment; perhaps his patriotic soul 
was stirred. Then we tr averse d an alley with locked doors on 
both sides, and stoppecfm front of the last door on the right. 
A key opened it. The music could still be distinctly heard. 

The opened door showed a room, about sixteen feet short" i 
and four feet narrow, with a heap of straw in the further end. 
My spirits had been steadily recovenring from the banality of 1 
their examination ; and it was with a genuine and never-to-be- I 
forgotten thrill that I remarked, as I crossed what might have \ 
been the threshold: ''Mais, on est bien icif \ 

A hideous crash nipped the last word. I had supposed the I 
whole prison to have been utterly destroyed by earthquake, 1 
but it was only my door closing. . . . •" — *4 

LXVI. ' 






I put the bed-roll down. I stood up. 

I was myself. 

An uncontrollable joy gutted me after three months of hu- 
miliation, of being bossed and herded and bullied and insulted. 
I was myself and my own master. 

In this delirium of relief (hardly noticing what I did) I in- 
spected the pile of straw, decided against it, set up my bed, 
disposed the roll on it, and began to examine my cell. 

I have mentioned the length and breadth. The cell was 
ridiculously high ; perhaps ten feet. The end with the door in 
it was peculiar. The door was not placed in the middle of this 
end, but at one side, allowing for a huge iron can waist-high 
which stood in the other corner. Over the door and across the 
end, a grating extended. A slit of sky was always visible. 

Whistling joyously to myself, I took three steps which 
brought me to the door end. The door was massively made, 
all of iron or steel I should think. It delighted me. The can 
excited my curiosity. I looked over the edge of it. At the 
bottom reposefully lay a new human turd. 

I have a sneaking mania for wood-cuts, particularly when 
used to illustrate the indispensable psychological crisis of some 
outworn romance. There is in my possession at this minute 
a masterful depiction of a tall, bearded, horrified man who, clad 
in an anonymous rig of goat skins, with a fantastic umbrella 
clasped weakly in one huge paw, bends to examine an indica- 
tion of humanity in the somewhat cubist wilderness whereof 
he had fancied himself the owner. . . . 


En Route 27 

It was then that I noticed the walls. Arm-high they were 
covered with designs, mottos, pictures. The drawing had all 
been done in pencil. I resolved to ask for a pencil at the first 

There had been Germans and Frenchmen imprisoned in this 
cell. On the right wall, near the door-end, was a long selection 
from Goethe, laboriously copied. Near the other end of this 
wall a satiric landscape took place. The technique of this 
landscape frightened me. There were houses, men, children. 
And there were trees. I began to wonder what a tree looks 
like, and laughed copiously. 

The back wall had a large and exquisite portrait of a Ger- 
man officer. 

The left wall was adorned with a yacht, flying a number 13. 
"My beloved boat"- was inscribed ,in German underneath. 
Then came a bust of a German soldier, very idealized, full of 
unfear. After this, a masterful crudity — a doughnut-bodied 
rider, sliding with fearful rapidity down the acute backbone 
of a totally transparent sausage-shaped horse, who was move- 
ing simultaneously in five directions. The rider had a bored 
expression as he supported the stiff reins in one fist. His 
further leg assisted in his flight. He wore a German soldier's 
cap and was smoking. I made up my mind to copy the horse 
and rider at once, so soon, that is, as I should have obtained 
a pencil. 

Last, I found a drawing surrounded by a scrolled motto. 
The drawing was a potted plant with four blosoms. The four 
blossoms were elaborately dead. Their death was drawn with 
a fearful care. An obscure deliberation was exposed in the 
depiction of their drooping petals. The pot totjered very 
crookedly on a sort of table, as near as I could see. All around 
ran a funereal scroll. I read : " My farf^wpH tn m y V>p1mrpH wifp — 
Gaby." A fierce hand, totally distinct from the former, wrote 
ln~proud letters above: " Punished for desertion. Sliy ypars ^ 
o f prison — military degradation.'^ 

It must have been five o'clock. Steps. A vast cluttering 
of the epcterior of the door — by whom? Whang opens the 


28 The Enormous Room 

door. Turnkey-creature extending a piece of chocolate with 
extreme and surly caution. I say ''Merci'* and seize cJiQcolate. 
Klang shuts the door. 

I am lying on my back, the twilight does mistily bluish mir- 
acles through the slit over the whang-klang. I can just see 
leaves, meaning tree. 

Then from the left and way off, faintly, broke a smooth 
whistle, cool like a peeled willow-branch, and I found myself 
listening to an air from Petroushka, Petroushka, which we 
saw in Paris at the Chdtelet, mon ami et moi. ,., . , 

The voice stopped in the middle — and I finished the air. 
This code continued for a half -hour. 

It was dark. 

I had laid a piece of my piece of chocolate on the window- 
sill. As I lay on my back a little silhouette came along the sill 
and ate that piece of a piece, taking something like four min- 
utes to do so. He then looked at me, I then smiled at him, 
and we parted, each happier than before. ^^Hl 

y^ cellule was cool, and I fell asleep easily. ^Ki 

(^Thinking of Paris.) ^^ll 

. . . Awakened by a conversation whose vibrations I cleai^ 
felt through the left wall : 

Turnkey-creature : **What ?" 

A moldly moldering molish voice, suggesting putrifying 
tracts and orifices, answers with a cob-webbish patience so far 
beyond despair as to be indescribable : ''La soupe/' 

"Well, the soup, I just gave it to you. Monsieur Savy.'* 

"Must have a little something else. My money is ches le 
directeur. Please take my money which is ches le directeur 
and give me anything else." 

"All right, the next time I come to see you to-day I'll bring 
you a salad, a nice salad. Monsieur." 

"Thank you. Monsieur," the voice moldered. 

Klang ! ! — and says the turnkey-creature to somebody else ; 
while turning the lock of Monsieur Savy's door ; taking pains 
to raise his voice so that Monsieur Savy will not miss' a sin- 
gle word through the slit over Monsieur Savy's whang-klang: 


^ ^^^ M^^ ^^ Route 29 

"That old fool! Always asks for things. When supposest 
thou will he realize that he's never going to get anything ?" 

Grubbing at my door. Whang ! 

The faces stood in the doorway, looking me down. The 
expression of the faces identically turnkeyish, i.e., stupidly 
gloating ponderously and imperturbably tickled. Look who's 
here, who let that in? 

The right body collapsed sufficiently to deposit a bowl just 

I smiled and said : "Good morning, sirs. The can stinks." 

They did not smile and said: "Naturally." I smiled and 
said: "Please give me a pencil. I want to pass the time.'' 
They did not smile and said: "Directly." 

I smiled and said : "I want some water, if you please." 

They shut the door, saying "Later." 

Klang and footsteps. 

I contemplate the bowl which contemplates me. A glaze of 
greenish grease seals the mystery of its content. I induce two 
fingers to penetrate the seal. They bring me up a flat sliver of 
j^abbage and a large, hard, thoughtful, solemn, uncooked bean. 
To pour the water off (it is warmish and sticky) without com- 
mitting a nuisance is to lift the cover off Qa Pue. I did. 

Thus leaving beans and cabbage-slivers. Which I ate hur- 
ryingly, fearing a ventral misgiving. 

I pass a lot of time cursing myself about the pencil, looking 
at my walls, ip.y unique interior. 

Suddenly I realize the indisputable grip of nature's humor-^ ^ 
ous hand. One evidently stands o n Qa Pue Vin such joases. J . 
Having finished, panting with stink, 1 tumble on the bedand~^ 
consider my next move. 

The straw will do. Ouch, but it's Dirty. — Several hours 
elapse. ... /- x 

Stepsanofumble. Klang. Repetition of promise to Mon- ({' ^ 
sieur Savy, etc. 

Turnkeyish and turnkeyish. Identical expression. One body 
collapses sufficiently to deposit a hunk of bread and a piece of 

30 The Enormous Room 

"Give your bowl." 

I gave it, smiled and said : "Well, how about that pencil?'* 

"Pencil?" T-c looked at T-c. 

They recited then the following word: "To-morrow." 

So I took matches, burnt, and with just 60 of them wrote 
the first stanza of a ballade. To-morrow I will write the sccojid. 
Day after to-morrow the third. Next day the refrain. After 
— oh, well. 

My whistling of Petroushka brought no response this 

So I climbed on Qa Pue, whom I now regarded with com- 
plete friendliness; the new moon was unclosing sticky wings 
in dusk, a far noise from near things. 

I sang a song the "dirty Frenchmen" taught us, Hnon ami 
et nwi. The song says Bon soir, Madame de la Lune. . . . 
I did not sing out loud, simply because the moon was like a 
mademoiselle, and I did not want to offend the moon. My 
friends : the silhouette and la lune, not counting fa Pue, whom 
I regarded almost as a part of me. 

Then I lay down, and heard (but could not see the sil- 
houette eat something or somebody . . . and saw, but could 
not hear, the incense of fa Pue mount gingerly upon the tak- 
ing air of twilight. 

The next day. — Promise to M. Savy. Whang. "My pen- 
cil?" — "You don't need any pencil, you're going away." — 
"When?" — "Directly." — "How directly?" — "In an hour 
or two : your friend has already gone before. Get ready.*' 

Klangknd steps. 

Everyone( very sore about me. I should worry, however. 

One hour, I guess. " "^ ' 

Steps. Sudden throwing of door open. Pause. 

"Come out, American." 

As I came out, toting bed and bed-roll, I remarked: "I'm 
sorry to leave you," which made T-c furiously to masticate his 
unsignificant mustache. 

En Route 31 

Escorted to bureau, where I am turned over to a very fat 

"This is the American." The v-f-g eyed me, and I read 
my sins in his porkHke orbs. "Hurry, we have to walk," he 
ventured sullenly and commandingly. 

Himself stooped puffingly to pick up the segregated sack. 
And I placed my bed, bed-roll, blankets and ample pelisse un- 
der one arm, my 150-odd pound, duffle-bag under the other; 
then I paused. Then I said, "Where's my cane?" 

The v-f-g hereat had a sort of fit, which perfectly became 

I repeated gently: "When I came to the bureau I had a 

"I don't gi\e a damn^abou^j^ur_canei," burbled my new 
captorfrothilyjliTs^ptHirevil eyes swelling with wrath. 

"I'm staying,'' I replied calmly, and sat down on a curb, in 
the midst of my ponderous trinkets. 

A crowd of gendarmes gathered. One didn't take a cane 
with one to prison (I was glad to know where I was bound, 
and thanked this communicative gentleman) ; or criminals 
weren't allowed canes ; or where exactly did I think I was, in 
the Tuileries? asks a rube movie-cop personage. 

"Very well, gentlemen," I said. "You will allow me to tell 
you something." (I was beet-colored.) "In America that 
sort of thing isn't done." 

This haughty inaccuracy produced an astonishing effect, 
namely, the prestidigitatorial vanishment of the v-f-g. The 
v-f-g's numerous confreres looked scared and twirled their 

I sat on the curb and began to fill a paper with something 
which I found in my pockets, certainly not tobacco. 

Splutter-splutter-fizz-Poop — the v-f-g is back, with my 
oak-branch in his raised hand, slithering opprobria and mostly 
crying: "Is that huge piece of wo9d what you call a cane? It 

is, is it? What? How? Whatthe ," so on. 

I beamed upon him and thanked him, and explained that a 

32 The Enormous Room 

"dirty Frenchman" had given it to me as a souvenir, and that 
I would now proceed. 

Twisting the handle in the loop of my sack, and hoisting the 
vast parcel under my arm, I essayed twice to boost it on my 
back. This to the accompaniment of HurryHurryHurry 
HurryHurryHurryHurry. . . . The third time I sweated and 
staggered to my feet, completely .accoutred^ 

Down the road. Into the ville. .Curious looks from a few 
pedestrians. A driver stops his wagon to watch the spider and 
his outlandish fly. I chuckled to think how long since I had 
washed and shaved. Then I nearly fell, staggered on a few 
steps, and set down the two- loads. 

Perhaps it was the fault of the strictly vegetarian diet. At 
any rate, I couldn't move a step farther with my bundles. The 
sun sent the sweat along my nose in tickling waves. My eyes 
were blind. 

Hereupon I suggested that the v-f-g carry part of one of my 
bundles with me, and received the answer: "I am doing too 
much for you as it is. No gendarme is supposed to carry a 
prisoner's baggage." 

I said then : "I'm too tired." 

He responded : "You can leave here anything you don't 
care to carry further; I'll take care of it." 

I looked at the gendarme. I looked several blocks through 
him. My lip did something like a sneer. My hands did some- 
thing like fists. 

At this crisis along comes a little boy. May God bless all 
males between seven and ten years of age in France! 

The gendarme offered a suggestion, in these words: "Have 
you any change about you ?" He knew, of course, that the sani- 
tary official's first act had been to deprive me of every last 
cent. The gendarme's eyes were fine. They reminded me 
of . . . never mind. "If you have change," said he, "you 
might hire this kid to carry some of your baggage." Then 
he lit; a pipe which was made in his own image, and smiled 

But herein the v-f-g had bust his milk-jug. There is a slit 

En Route 33 

of a pocket made in the uniform of his criminal on the Tight 
side, and completely covered by the belt which his criminal 
always wears. His criminal had thus outwitted the gumshoe 

The gosse could scarcely balance my smaller parcel, but 
managed after three rests to get it to the station platform; 
here I tipped him something like two cents (all I had) which, 
with dollar-big eyes, he took and ran. 

A strongly-built, groomed apache smelling of cologne and 
onions greeted my v-f-g with that affection which is peculiar 
to gendarmes. On me he stared cynically, then sneered 

With a little tooty shriek the funny train tottered in. My 
captors had taken pains to place themselves at the wrong end 
of the platform. Now they encouraged me to HurryHurry 

I managed to get under the load and tottered the length of 
the train to a car especially reserved. There was one other 
criminal, a beautifully-smiling, shortish man, with a very fine 
blanket wrapped in a water-proof oilskin cover. We grinned 
at each other (the most cordial salutation, by the way, that I 
have ever exchanged with a human being) and sat down oppo- 
site one another — he, plus my baggage which he helped me lift 
in, occupying one seat ; the gendarme-sdindwioh. of which I 
formed the piece de resistancCy the other. 

The engine got under way after several feints^ whicft pleased 
the Germans so that they sent seven scout planes right over 
the station, train, us et tout. All the French anti-craft guns 
went off together for the sake of sympathy; the guardians of 
the peace squinted cautiously from their respective windows, 
and then began a debate on the number of the enemy while 
their prisoners smiled at each other appreciatively. 

'7/ fait chaud" said this divine man, prisoner, criminal, or 
what not, as he offered me a glass of wine in the form of a 
huge tin cup overflowed from the canteen in his slightly un- 
steady and delicately made hand. He is a Belgian. Volun- 
tqered at beginning of war. Permission at Paris, overstayed 

34 The Enormous Room 

by one day. When he reported to his officer, the latter an- 
nounced that he was a deserter — "I said to him, It is funny. 
It is funny I should have come back, of my own free will, to 
my company. I should have thought that being a deserter I 
would have prefered to remain in Paris." The wine was ter- 
ribly cold, and I thanked my divine host. 

Never have I tasted such wine. 

They had given me; a chunk of war-bread in place of bless- 
ing when I left Noyon. I bit into it with renewed might. But 
the divine man across from me immediately produced a sau- 
sage, half of which he laid simply upon my knee. The halv- 
ing was done with a large keen poilu l^knife. 

I have not tasted a sausage since. 

The pigs on my either hand had by this time overcome their 
respective inertias and were chomping cheek-murdering 
C-hunks. They had quite a layout, a regular picnic-lunch elab- 
orate enough for kings or even presidents. The v-f-g in par- 
ticular annoyed me by uttering alternate chompings and 
belchings. All the time he ate he kept his eyes half -shut; and 
a mist overspread the sensual meadows of his coarse face. 

His two reddish eyes rolled devouringly toward the blanket 

in its water-proof roll. After a huge gulp of wine he said 

thickly (for his huge mustache was crusted with saliva-tinted 

half -moistened shreds of food), "You will have no use for that 

machine la-has. They are going to take everything away from 

you when you get there, you know. I could use it nicely. I 

have wanted such a piece of rubber for a great while, in order 

to make me a raincoat. Do you see?" (Gulp. Swallow.) 

V Here I had an inspiration. I would save the blanket-cover 

' by drawing these brigands' attention to myself. At the same 

; time I would satisfy my inborn taste for the ridiculous. "Have 

you a pencil?" I said. "Because I am an artist in my own 

- country, and will do your picture." 

'^^^ He gave me a pencil. I don't remember where the paper 
came from. I posed him in a pig-like position, and the picture 
made him chew his mustache. The apache thought it very 
droll. I should do his picture, too, at once. I did my best; 

En Route 3 

though protesting that he was too beautiful for my pencil, 
which remark he countered by murmuring (as he screwed his 
mustache another notch), "Never mind, you will try." Oh, 
yes, I would try all right, all right. Hei objected, I recall, to 
the nose. 

By this time the divine "deserter" was writhing with joy. 
"If you please. Monsieur," he whispered radiantly, "It would 
be too great an honor, but if you could — I should be over- 
come. ..." 

Tears (for some strange reason) came into my eyes. 

He handled his picture sacredly, criticised it with precision 
and care, finally bestowed it in his inner pocket. Then \ve 
drank. It happened that the train stopped and the apache was 
persuaded to go out and get his prisoner's canteen filled. Then 
we drank again. 

He smiled as he told me he was getting ten years. Three 
years at solitary confinement was it, and seven working in a 
gang on the road? That would not be so bad. He wished he 
was not married, had not a little child. "The bachelors are 
lucky in this war''^ — ^he smiled. 

Now the gendarmes began cleaning their beards, brushing 
their stomachs, spreading their Iqgs, collecting their baggage. 
The reddish eyes, little and cruel^ woke from the trance of 
digestion and settled with positive ferocity on their prey. "You 
will have no use. ..." 

Silently the sensitive, gentle hands of the divine prisoner 
undid the blanket-cover. Silently the long, tired, well-shaped 
arms passed it across to the brigand at my left side. With a 
grunt of satisfaction the brigand stuffed it in a large pouch, 
taking pains that it should not show. Silently the divine eyes 
said to mine : "What can we do, we criminals ?" And we 
smiled at each other for the last time, the eyes and my eyes. 

A station. The apache descends. I follow with my numer- 
ous affaires. The divine man follows me — ^the v-f-g him. 

The blanket-roll containing my large fur-coat got more and 
more unrolled ; finally I could not possibly hold it. 

It fell. To pick it up I must take the sack off my back. 

36 The Enormous Room 

Then comes a voice, "allow me if you please, monsieur" — 
and the sack has disappeared. Blindly and dumbly I stumbled 
on with the roll ; and so at length we come into the yard of a 
little prison; and the divine man bowed under my great 
sack. ... I never thanked him. When I turned, they'd 
taken him away, and the sack stood accusingly at my feet. 

Through the complete disorder of my numbed mind flicker 
jabbings of strange tongues. Some high boy's voice is appeal- 
ing to me in Belgian, Italian, Polish, Spanish and — ^beautiful 
English. "Hey, Jack, give me a cigarette. Jack. ..." 

I lift my eyes. I am standing in a tiny oblong space. A sort 
of court. AH around, two-story wooden barracks. Little 
crude staircases lead up to doors heavily chainqd and im- 
mensely padlocked. More like ladders than stairs. Curious 
hewn windows, smaller in proportion than the slits in a doll's 
house. Are these faces behind the slits? The doors bulge in- 
cessantly under the shock of bodies hurled against them from 
within. The whole dirty nouveau business about to crimible. 

Glance one. 

Glanca two: directly before me. A wall with many bars 
fixed across one miinute opening. At the opening a dozen, 
fifteen, grins. Upon the bars hands, scraggy and bluishly 
white. Through the bars stretching of lean arms, incessant 
stretchings. The grins leap at the window, hands belonging 
to them catch hold, arms belonging to the hands stretch in my 
direction ... an instant; then new grins leap from behind 
and knock off Ithe first grins which go down with a fragile 
crashing like glass smashed: hands wither and break, arms 
streak out of sight, sucked inward. 

In the huge potpourri of misery a central figure clung, 
shaken but undislodged. Clung like a monkey to central bars. 
Clung like an angel to a harp. Calling pleasantly in a high 
boyish voice : "O Jack, give me a cigarette." 

A handsome face, dark, Latin smile, musical fingers strong. 

I waded suddenly through a group of gendarmes (they stood 
around me watching with a disagreeable curiosity my reaction 
to this). Strode fiercely to the window. 

En Route 37 

Trillions of hands. 

Quadrillions of itching fingers. 

The angel-monkey received the package of cigarettes po- 
litely, disappearing with it into howling darkness. I heard his 
high boy's voice distributing cigarettes. Then he leaped into 
sight, poised gracefuly against two central bars, saying *'Thank 
you, Jack, good boy" . . . "Thanks, merci, gracias . . ."a 
deafening din of gratitude reeked from within. 

"Put your baggage in here," quoth an angry voice. *'No, 
you will not take anything but one blanket in your cell, under- 
stand." In French. Evidently the head of the house speak- 
ing. I obeyed. A corpulent soldier importantly lead me to 
my cell. My cell is two doors away from the monkey-angel, 
on the same side. The high boy-voice, centralized in a torrent- 
like halo of stretchings, followed my back. The head himself 
unlocked a lock. I marched coldly in. The fat soldier locked 
and chained my door. Four feet went away. I felt in my 
pocket, finding four cigarettes. I am sorry I did not give 
these also to the monkey — to the angel. Lifted my eyes and 
saw my own harp. 



Through the bars I looked into that little and dirty lane 
whereby I had entered; in which a sentinel, gun on shoulder, 
and with a huge revolver strapped at his hip, monotonously 
moved. On my right was an old wall overwhelmed with moss. 
A few growths stemmed from its crevices. Their leaves were 
of a refreshing color. I felt singularly happy, and carefully 
throwing myself on the bare planks sang one after another all 
the French songs which I had picked up in my stay at the am- 
bulance; sang La Madelon, sang AVec avEC DU, and Les 
Galiots Sont Lourds Dans Sac — concluding with an inspired 
rendering of La Marseillaise, at which the guard (who had 
several times stopped his round in what I choose to interpret 
as astonishment) grounded arms and swore appreciatively. 
Various officials of the jail passed by me and my lusty songs ; 
I cared no whit. Two or three conferred, pointing in my di- 
rection, and I sang a little louder for the benefit of their per- 
plexity. Finally out of voice I stopped. 

It was twilight. 

As I lay on my back luxuriously I saw through the bars of 
my twice padlocked door a boy and a girl about ten years old. 
I saw them climb on the wall and play together, obliviously 
and exquisitely, in the darkening air. I watched them for 
many minutes ; till the last moment of light failed ; till they and 
the wall itself dissolved in a common mystery, leaving only the 
bored silhouette of the soldier moving imperceptibly and 
wearily against a still more gloomy piece of autumn sky. 

At last I knew that I was very thirsty ; and leaping up began 


A Pilgrim's Progress 39 

to clamor at my bars. "Something to drink, please.'* After 
a long debate with the sergeant of guards who said very an- 
grily : "Give it to him," a guard took my request and disap- 
peared from view, returning with a more heavily armed guard 
and a tin cup full of water. One of these gentry watched the 
water and me, while the other wrestled with the padlock. The 
door being minutely opened, one guard and the water pain- 
fully entered. The other guard remained at the door, gun in 
readiness. The water was set down, and the enterer assumed 
a perpendicular position which I thought merited recognition ; 
accordingly I said "Merci'* politely, without getting up from the 
planks. Immediately he began to deliver a sharp lecture on the 
probability of my using the tin cup to saw my way out; and 
commended haste in no doubtful terms. I smiled, asked par- 
don for my inherent stupidity (which speech seemed to anger 
him) and guzzled the so-called water without looking at it, 
having learned something from Noyon. With a long and dan- 
gerous look at their prisoner, the gentlemen of the guard with- 
drew, using inconceivable caution in the relocking of the door. 

I laughed and fell asleep. 

After (as I judged) four minutes of slumber, I was awak- 
ened by at least six men standing over me. The darkness was 
intense, it was extraordinarily cold. I glared at them and 
tried to understand what new crime I had committed. One of 
the six was repeating: "Get up, you are going away. Four 
o'clock." After several attempts I got up. They formed a 
circle around me; and together we marched a few steps to a 
sort of storeroom, where my great sac, small sac, and overcoat 
were handed to me. A rather agreeably voiced guard then 
handed me a half -cake of chocolate, saying (but with a toler- 
able grimness) : "You'll need it, believe me." I found my 
stick, at which "piece of furniture'' they amused themselves a 
little until I showed its use, by catching the ring at the mouth 
of my sac in the curved end of the stick and swinging the 
whole business unaided on my back. Two new guards — or 
rather gendarmes — were now officially put in charge of my 
person ; and the three of us passed down the lane, much to the 

40 The Enormous Room 

interest of the sentinel, to whom I bade a vivid and unreturned 
adieu. I can see him perfectly as he stares stupidly at us, a 
queer shape in the gloom, before turning on his heel. 

Toward the very station whereat some hours since I had 
disembarked with the Belgian deserter and my former escorts, 
we moved. I was stiff with cold and only half awake, but pe- 
culiarly thrilled. The gendarmes on either side moved grimly, 
without speaking ; or returning monosyllables to my few ques- 
tions. Yes, we were to take the train. I was going some- 
where, then? ''B'en sure." — "Where?" — "You will know 
in time." 

After a few minutes we reached the station, which I failed 
to recognize. Thq yellow flares of lamps, huge and formless 
in the night mist, some figures moving to and fro on a little 
platform, a rustle of conversation: everything seemed ridicu- 
lously suppressed, beautifully abnormal, deliciously insane. 
Every figure was wrapped with its individual ghostliness; a 
number of ghosts each out on his own promenade, yet each 
for some reason selecting this unearthly patch of the world, 
this putrescent and uneasy gloom. Even my guards talked in 
whispers. "Watch him, I'll see about the train." So one went 
off into the mist. I leaned dizzily against the wall nearest me 
(having plumped down my baggage) and stared, into the dark- 
ness at my elbow, filled with talking shadows. I recognized of- 
ficiers anglais wandering helplessly up and down, supported 
with their sticks ; French lieutenants talking to each other here 
and there; the extraordinary sense-bereft stationmaster at a 
distance^ looking like a cross between a jumping-jack and a 
goblin; knots of permissionaires cursing wearily or joking 
hopelessly with one another or stalking back and forth with 
imprecatory gesticulations. "It's a joke, too, you know, there 
are no more trains?" — "The conductor is dead. I know his 
sister." • — "Old chap, I am all in." — "Say, we are all lost.'' — 
"What time is it ?" — "My dear fellow, there is no more time, 
the French Government forbids it." Suddenly burst out of the 
loquacious opacity a dozen handfuls of Algeriens, their feet 
swaggering with fatigue, their eyes burning apparently by 

A Pilgrim's Progress 41 

themselves — faceless in the equally black mist. By threes and 
fives they assaulted the goblin who wailed and shook his with- 
ered fist in their faces. There was no train. It had been taken 
away by the French Government. "How do I know how the 
poilus can get back to their regiments on time? Of course 
you'll all of you be deserters, but is it my fault?" (I thought 
of my friend, the Belgian, at this moment lying in a pen at the 
prison which I had just quitted by some miracle). . . . One 
of these fine people from uncivilized, ignorant, unwarlike Al- 
g*eria was drunk and knew it, as did two of his very fine friends 
who announced that as there was no train he should have a 
good sleep at a farmhouse hard by, which farmhouse one of 
them claimed to espy through the impenetrable night. The 
drunk was accordingly escorted into the dark, his friends- 
abrupt steps correcting his own large slovenly procedure out 
of earshot. . . . Some of the Black People sat down near 
me and smoked. Their enormous faces, wads of vital dark- 
ness, swoorted with fatigue. Their vast gentle hands lay 
noisily about their knees. 

The departed gendarme returned, with a bump, out of the 
mist. The train for Paris would arrive de suite. We were 
just in time, our movement had so far been very creditable. 
All was well. It was cold, eh? 

Then with the ghastly miniature roar of an insane toy the 
train for Paris came fumbling into the station. . . . 

We boarded it, due caution being taken that I should not 
escape. As a matter of fact I held up thei would-be passen- 
gers for nearly a minute by my unaided attempts to boost my 
uncouth baggage aboard. Then my captors and I blundered 
heavily into a compartment in which an Englishman and two 
French women were seated. My gendarmes established them- 
selves on either side of the door, a process which woke up the 
Anglo-Saxon and caused a brief gap in the low talk of the 
women. Jolt — we were off. 

I find myself with a frangaise on my left and an anglais on 
my right. The latter has already uncomprehendingly subsided 
into sleep. The former (a woman of about thirty) is talking 

42 The Enormous Room 

pleasantly to her friend, whom I face. She must have been 
very pretty before she put on the black. Her friend is also 
a veuve. How pleasantly they talk, of la guerre, of Paris, of 
the bad service; talk in agreeably modulated voices, leaning a 
little forward to each other, not wishing to disturb the dolt at 
my right. The train tears slowly on. Both the gendarmes are 
asleep, one with his hand automatically grasping the handle 
of the door. Lest I escape. I try all sorts of positions, for I 
find myself very tired. The best is to put my cane between 
my legs and rest my chin on it; but even that is uncomfortable, 
for the Englishman has writhed all over me by this time and is 
snoring creditably. I look him over ; an Etonian, as I guess. 
Certain well-bred- well- fedness. Except for the position — ^well, 
c'est la guerre. The women are speaking softly. "And do 
you know, my dear, that they had raids again in Paris? My 
sister wrote me." — "One has excitement always in a great 
city, my dear." — 

Bump, slowing down. BUMP— BUMP. 

It is light outside. One sees the world. There is a world 
still, the gouvernement francais has not taken it away, and the 
air must be beautifully cool. In the compartment it is hot. 
The gendarmes smell worst. I know how I smell. What polite 

''Enfin. nous voild." My guards awoke and yawned pre- 
tentiously. Lest I should think they had dozed off. It is 

Some permissionaires cried "Paris.** The woman across 
from me said "Paris, Paris." A great shout came up from 
every insane drowsy brain that had travelled with us — a fierce 
and beautiful cry, which went the length of the train. . . . 
Paris, where one forgets, Paris, which is Pleasure, Paris, in 
whom our souls live, Paris, the beautiful, Paris at last. 

The? Englishman woke up and said heavily to me: "I say, 
where are we?" — "Paris," I answered, walking carefully on 
his feet as I made my baggage-laden way out of the compart- 
ment. It was Paris. 

A Pilgrim's Progress 43 

My guards hurried me through the station. One of them (I 
saw for the first time) was older than the other, and rather 
handsome with his Van Dyck blackness of curly beard. He 
said that it was too early for the metro, it was closed. We 
should take a car. It would bring us to the other station from 
which our next train left. We should hurry. We emerged 
from the station and its crowds of crazy men. We boarded 
a car marked something. The conductress, a strong, pink- 
cheeked, rather beautiful girl in black, pulled my baggage in 
for me with a gesture which filled all of me with joy. I 
thanked her, and she smiled at me. The car moved along 
through the morning. 

We descended from it. We started off on foot. The car 
was not the right car. We would have to walk to the station. 
I was faint and almost dead from weariness and I stopped 
when my overcoat had fallen from my benumbed arm for the 
second time: "How far is it?" The older gendarme returned 
briefly, "Twenty minutes.'* I said to him: "Will you help me 
carry these things?" He thought, and told the younger to 
carry my small sack filled with papers. The latter grunted, 
"C'est defendu/' We went a little farther, and I broke down 
again. I stopped dead, and said : "I can't go any farther." It 
was obvious to my escorts that I couldn't, so I didn't trouble 
to elucidate. Moreover, I was past elucidation. 

The oldcir stroked his beard. "Well," he said, "would you 
care to take a cab?" I merely looked at him. "If you wish to 
call a cab, I will take out of your money, which I have here and 
which I must not give to you, the necessary sum, and make a 
note of it, subtracting from the original amount a sufficiency 
for our fare to the Gare. In that case we will not walk to the 
Gare, we will in fact ride." "Please," was all I found to 
reply to this eloquence. 

Several empty cabs had gone by during the peroration of 
the law, and no more seemed to offer themselves. After some 
minutes, however, one appeared and was duly hailed. Nerv- 
ously (he was shy in the big city) the older asked if the driver 
knew where the Gare was. ^'Quelle?" demanded the cocher 

44 The Enormous Room 

angrily. And when he was told — "Of course, I know, why 
not?" We got in; I being directed to sit in the middle, and my 
two bags and fur coat piled on top of us all. 

So we drove through the streets in the freshness of the full 
morning, the streets full of few divine people who stared at 
me and nudged one another, the streets of Paris . . . the 
drowsy ways wakening at the horses' hoofs, the people lifting 
their faces to stare. 

We arrived at the Gare, and I recognized it vaguely. Was 
it D'Orleans? We dismounted, and the tremendous transac- 
tion of the fare was apparently very creditably accomplished 
by the older. The cocher gave me a look and remarked what- 
ever it is Paris drivers* remark to Paris cab horses, pulling 
dully at the reins. W^e entered the station and I collapsed com- 
fortably on a bench ; the younger, seating himself with enor- 
mous pomposity at my side, adjusted his tunic with a purely 
feminine gesture expressive at once of pride and nervousness. 
Gradually my vision gained in focus. The station has a good 
many people in it. The number increases momently. A great 
many are girls. I am in a new world — a world of chic femi- 
ninty. My eyes devour the inimitable details of costume, the 
inexpressible nuances of pose, the indescribable demarche of 
the midinette. They hold themselves differently. They have 
even a little bold color here and there on skirt or blouse or 
hat. They are not talking about La Guerre. Incredible. 
They appear very beautiful, these Parisiennes. 

And simultaneously with my appreciation of the crisp per- 
sons about me comes the hitherto unacknowledged appreciation 
of my uncouthness. My chin tells my hand of a good quarter 
inch of beard, every hair of it stiff with dirt I can feel the 
dirt-pools under my eyes. My hands are rough with dirt. My 
uniform is smeared and creased in a hundred thousand direc- 
tions. My puttees and shoes are prehistoric in appearance. . . . 

My first request was permission to visit the vespasienne. 
The younger didn't wish to assume any unnecessary responsi- 
bilities; I should wait till the older returned. There he was 
now. I might ask him. The older benignly granted my peti- 

A Pilgrim's Progress 45 

tion, nodding significantly to his fellow-guard, by whom I was 
accordingly escorted to my destination and subsequently back 
to my bench. When we got back the gendarmes held a con- 
sultation of terrific importance; in substance, the train which 
should be leaving at that moment (six something) did not run 
to-day. We should therefore wait for the next train, which 
leaves at twelve^something-else. Then the older surveyed me 
and said almost kindly: "How would you like a cup of cof- 
fee?" — "Much," I replied sincerely enough. — "Come with 
me," he commanded, resuming instantly his official manner. 
"And you'' (to the younger) "watch his baggage." 

Of all the very beautiful women whom I had seen the most 
very beautiful was the large and circular lady who sold a cup 
of perfectly hot and genuine coffee for two cents, just on the 
brink of the station, chatting cheerfully with her many cus- 
tomers. Of all the drinks I ever drank, hers was the most sa- 
credly delicious. She wore, I remember, a tight black dress in 
which enormous and benignant breasts bulged and sank con- 
tinuously. I lingered over my tiny cup, watching her swift 
big hands, her round nodding face, her large sudden smile. I 
drank two cofEees, and insisted that my money should pay for 
our drinks.) Of all the treating which I shall ever do, the 
treating of my captor will stand unique in pleasure. Even he 
half appreciated the sense of humor involved ; though his dig- 
nity did not permit a visible acknowledgment thereof. 
I Madame la iimdeuse de cafe, I shall remember you for more 
than a little while] 

Having thusTtmsumimated breakfast, my guardian suggested 
a walk. Agreed. I felt I had the strength of ten because the 
coffee was pure. Moreover it would be a novelty to me prom- 
ener sans 150-odd pounds of baggage. We set out. 

As we walked easily and leisurely thei by this time well peo- 
pled streets of the vicinity, my guard indulged himself in 
pleasant conversation. Did I know Paris much? He knew it 
all. But he had not been in Paris for several (eight was it?) 
years. It was a fine place, a large city to be sure. But always 
changing. I had spent a month in Paris while waiting for my 

46 The Enormous Room 

uniform and my assignment to a section sanitairef. And my 
friend was with me? H-mmm-mm. 

A perfectly typical runt of a Paris bull eyed us. The older 
saluted him with infinite respect, the respect of a shabby rube 
deiacon for a well-dressed burglar. They exchanged a few 
well-chosen words, in French of course. "What ya got there?" 
— "An American." — "What's wrong with him?" — "H-mmm* 
mysterious shrug of the shoulders followed by a whisper in the 
ear of the city thug. The latter contented himself with 
"Ha-aaa" — plus a look at me which was meant to wipe me off 
the earth's face ( I pretended to be studying the morning mean- 
while). Then we moved on, followed by ferocious stares from 
the Paris bull. Evidently I was getting to be more of a crim- 
inal every minute; I should probably be shot to-morrow, not 
(as I had assumed erroneously) the day after. I drank the 
morning with renewed vigor, thanking heaven for the coife^ 
Paris; and feehng complete confidence in myself. I should 
make a great speech (in Midi French). I should say to the 
firing squad: "Gentlemen, c*est de la blague, tu saisf Moi, 
je connais lo soeur dii conducteiir."- . . . They would ask me 
when I preferred to die. I should reply, "Pardon me, you wish 
to ask me when I prefer to become immortal?'* I should an- 
swer: "What matter? It's all the same to me, because there 
isn't any more time — the French Government forbids it.'' 

My laughter surprised the older considerably. He would 
have been more astonished had I yielded to the well-nigh irre- 
pressible inclination, which at the moment suffused me, to clap 
him heartily upon the back. 

Everything was blague. The driver, the cafe, the police, the 
morning, and least and last the excellent French Government. 

We had walked for a half hour or more. My guide and pro- 
tector now inquired of a workingman thej location of the 
boucheriesf "There is one right in front of you," he was told. 
Sure enough, not a block away. I laughed again. It was eight 
years all right. 

The older bought a great many things in the next five 
minutes : sausage, cheese, bread, chocolate, pinard rouge. A 

A Pilgrim's Progress 47 

bourgeoise with an unagreeable face and suspicion of me 
written in headlines all over her mouth served us with quick 
hard laconicisms of movement. I hated her and consequently 
refused my captor's advice to buy a little of everything (on 
the ground that it would be a long time till the next meal), 
contenting myself with a cake of chocolate — rather bad choco- 
late, but nothing to what I was due to eat during the next 
three months. Then we retraced our steps, arriving at the 
station after several mistakes and inquiries to find the younger 
faithfully keeping guard over my two sacs and overcoat. 

The older and I sat down, and the younger took his turn at 
promenading. I got up to buy a Fantasio at the stand ten steps 
away, and the older jumped up and escorted me to and from it. 
I think I asked him what he would read? and he said "Noth- 
ing." Maybe I bought him a journal. So we waited, eyed by 
everyone in the Gare, laughed at by the officers and their mar- 
raines, pointed at by sinewy dames and decrepit bonhommes — 
the centre of amusement for the whole station. In spite of my 
reading I felt distinctly uncomfortable. Would it never 
be Twelve? Here comes the younger, neat as a pin, looking 
fairly sterilized. He sits down on my left. Watches are os- 
tentatiously consulted. It is time. En avant, I sling myself 
under my bags. 

"Where are we going now?" I asked the older. Curling the 
tips of his mustachios, he replied "Mah-say." 

Marseilles ! I was happy once more. I had always wanted 
to go to that great port of the Mediterranean, where one has 
new colors and strange customs, and where the people sing 
when they talk. But how extraordinary to have come to 
Paris — and what a trip lay before us. I was much muddled 
about the whole thing. Probably I was to be deported. But 
why from Marseilles? Where was Marseilles anyway? I 
was probably all wrong about its location. Who cared, after 
all? At least we were leaving the pointings and the sneers 
and the half -suppressed titters. . . . 

Two fat and respectable bonhommes, the two gendarmes, 
and I, made up one compartment The former talked an 

48 The Enormous Room 

animated stream, the guards and I were on the whole silent. 
I watched the liquidating landscape and dozed happily. The 
gendarmes dozed, one at each door. The train rushed lazily 
across the earth, between farmhouses, into fields, along woods 
... the sunlight smacked my eye and cuffed my sleepy mind 
with color. 

I was awakened by a noise of eating. My protectors, knife 
in hand, were consuming their meat and bread, occasionally 
tilting their hifions on high and absorbing the thin streams 
which spurted therefrom. I tried a little chocolat. The hon- 
hommes were already busy with their repast. The older gen- 
darme watched me chewing away at the chocolate, then com- 
manded, "Take some bread." This astonished rne, I confessed, 
beyond anything which had heretofore occurred. I gazed 
mutely at him, wondering whether the gouvernement frangais 
had made away with his wits. He had relaxed amazingly : his 
cap lay beside him, his tunic was unbuttoned, he slouched in a 
completely undisciplined posture — ^his face seemed to have 
been changed for a peasant's, it was almost open in expression 
and almost completely at ease. I seized the offered hunk, and 
chewed vigorously on it. Bread was bread. The older ap- 
peared pleased with my appetite ; his face softened still more, 
as he remarked : "Bread without wine doesn't taste good," and 
proffered his bidon. I drank as much as I dared, and thanked 
him : "fa va wieux." The pinard went straight to my brain, 
I felt my mind cuddled by a pleasant warmth, my thoughts be- 
came invested with a great contentment. The train stopped ; and 
the younger sprang out, carrying the empty canteens of him- 
self and his comrade. When they and he returned, I enjoyed 
another cup. From that moment till we reached our destina- 
tion at about eight o'clock the older and I got on extraordi- 
narily well. When the gentlemen descended at their station 
he waxed almost familiar. I was in excellent spirits; rather 
drunk; extremely tired. Now that the two guardians and 
myself were alone in the compartment, the curiosity which 
had hitherto been stifled by etiquette and pride of capture 
came rapidly to light. Why was I here, anyway? I seemed 


A Pilgrim's Progress 49 

well enough to them. — Because my friend had written some 
letters, I told them. — But I had done nothing myself? — I ex- 
plained that we used to be together all the time, mon ami et 
moi; that was the only reason which I knew of. — It was very 
funny to see how this explanation improved matters. The 
older in particular was immensely relieved. — I would without 
doubt, he said, be set free immediately upon my arrival. The 
French government didn't keep people like me in prison. — They 
fired some questions about America at me, to which I imagina- 
tively replied. I think I told the younger that the average 
height of buildings in America was nine hundred metres. He 
stared and shook his head doubtfully, but I convinced him 
in the end. Then in my turn I asked questions, the first being : 
Where was my friend? — It seems that my friend had left 
Gre (or whatever it was) the morning of the day I had entered 
it. — Did they know where my friend was going? — They 
couldn't say. They had been told that he was very dangerous. 
— So we talked on and on: How long had I studied French? 
I spoke very well. Was it hard to learn English? — 

Yet when I climbed out to relieve myself by the roadside 
one of them was at my heels. 

Finally watches were consulted, tunics buttoned, hats donned. 
I was told in a gruff voice to prepare myself ; that we were ap- 
proaching the end of our journey. Looking at the erstwhile 
participants in conversation, I scarcely knew them. They had 
put on with their caps a positive ferocity of bearing. I began 
to think that I had dreamed the incidents of the preceding 

We descended at a minute, dirty station which possessed 
the air of having been dropped by mistake from the bung of 
the gouvernement frangais. The older sought out the station 
master, who having nothing to do was taking a siesta in a 
miniature waiting-room. The general countenance of the place 
was exceedingly depressing; but I attempted to keep up my 
spirits with the reflection that after all all this was but a 
junction, and that from here we were to take a train for 
Marseilles herself. The name of the station, Briouse, I found 

50 The Enormous Room 

somewhat dreary. And now the older returned with the news 
that our train wasn't running today, and that the next train 
didn't arrive till early morning and should we walk to 
Marseilles? I could check my great sac and overcoat. The 
small sac I should carry along — it was only a step, after all. 

With a glance at the desolation of Briouse I agreed to the 
stroll. It was a fine night for a little promenade; not too 
cool, and with a promise of a moon stuck into the sky. The 
sac and coat were accordingly checked by the older ; the station- 
master glanced at me and haughtily grunted (having learned 
that I was an American) ; and my protectors and I set out. 

I insisted that we stop at the first cafe and have some wine on 
me. To this my escorts agreed, making me go ten paces ahead 
of them, and waiting until I was through before stepping up 
to the bar — not from politeness, to be sure, but because (as I 
soon gathered) gendarmes were not any too popular in this 
part of the world, and the sight of two gendarmes with a 
jprisoner might inspire the habitues to attempt a rescue. 
Furthermore, on leaving the cafe (a desolate place if I ever 
saw one, with a fearful patronne) I was instructed sharply to 
keep close to them but on no account to place myself between 
them, there being sundry villagers to be encountered before w^— . 
struck the high road for Marseilles. Thanks to their ^ordH 
thought and my obedience the rescue did not take place, nor 
did our party excite even the curiosity of the scarce and sogj 
inhabitants of the unlovely town of Briouse. 

The highroad won, all of us relaxed considerably. The si 
full of suspicious letters which I bore on my shoulder was 
not so light as I had thought, but the kick of the Briouse 
pinard thrust me forward at a good clip. The road was 
absolutely deserted; the night hung loosely around it, here 
and there tattered by attempting moonbeams. I was some- 
what sorry to find the way hilly, and in places bad underfoot ; 
yet the unknown adventure lying before me, and the delicious 
silence of the night (in which our words rattled queerly like tin 
soldiers in a plush-lined box) boosted me into a condition of 
mysterious happiness. We talked, the older and I, of strange 

A Pilgrim's Progress 5 1 

subjects. As I suspected, he had been not always a gendarme. 
He had seen service among the Arabs. He had always Hked 
languages and had picked up Arabian with great ease — of this 
he was very proud. For instance — the Arabian way of saying 
"Give me to eat" was this ; when you wanted wine you said so 
and so; "Nice day" was something else. He thought I could 
pick it up inasmuch as I had done so creditably with French. He 
was absolutely certain that English was much easier to learn 
than French, and would not be moved. Now what was the 
American language like? I explained that it was a sort of 
Argot-English. When I gave him some phrases he was 
astonished — "It sounds like English!'' he cried, and retailed 
his stock of English phrases for my approval. I tried hard to 
get his intonation of the Arabian, and he helped me on the 
difficult sounds. America must be a strange place, he 
thought. . . . 

After two hours walking he called a halt, bidding us rest. 
We all lay flat on the grass by the roadside. The moon was ' 
still battling with clouds. The darkness of the fields on either 
side was total. I crawled on hands and knees to the sound 
of silver-trickling water and found a little spring-fed stream. 
Prone, weight on elbows, I drank heavily of its perfect black- 
ness. It was icy, talkative, minutely alive. 

The older presently gave a perfunctory "dors" ; we got up; 
I hoisted my suspicious utterances upon my shoulder, which 
recognized the renewal of hostilities with a neuralgic throb. 
I banged forward with bigger and bigger feet. A bird, scared, 
swooped almost into my face. Occasionally some night-noise 
pricked a futile, minute hole in the enormous curtain of soggy 
darkness. Uphill now. Every muscle thoroughly aching, head 
spinning, I half -straightened my no longer obedient body; and 
jumped : face to face with a little wooden man hanging all by 
itself in a grove of low trees. 

— The wooden body, clumsy with pain, burst into fragile legs 
with absurdly large feet and funny writhing toes ; its little stiff 
arms made abrupt cruel equal angles with the road. About 
its stunted loins clung a ponderous and jocular fragment of 

52 The Enormous Room 

drapery. On one terribly brittle shoulder the droll lump of its 
neckless head ridiculously lived. There was in this complete 
silent doll a gruesome truth of instinct, a success of uncanny 
poignancy, an unearthly ferocity of rectangular emotion. 

For perhaps a minute the almost obliterated face and mine 
eyed one another in the silence of intolerable autumn. 

Who was this wooden man? Like a sharp black mechanical 
cry in the spongy organism of gloom stood the coarse and sud- 
den sculpture of his torment ; the big mouth of night carefully 
spurted the angular actual language of his martyred body. I 
had seen him before in the dream of some mediaeval saint, 
with a thief sagging at either side, surrounded with crisp 
angels. Tonight he was alone ; save for myself, and the moon's 
minute flower pushing between slabs of fractured cloud. 

I was wrong, the moon and I and he were not alone. . . . 
A glance up the road gave me two silhouettes at pause. The 
gendarmes were waiting. I must hurry to catch up or incur 
suspicions by my sloth. I hastened forward, with a last look 
over my shoulder . . . the wooden man was watching us. 

When I came abreast of them, expecting abuse, I was sur- 
prised by the older's saying quietly "We haven't far to go," and 
plunging forward imperturbably into the night. 

Nor had we gone a half hour before several dark squat 
forms confronted us: houses. I decided that I did not like 
houses — particularly as now my guardian's manner abruptly 
changed; once more tunics were buttoned, holsters adjusted, 
and myself directed to walk between and keep always up with 
the others. Now the road became thoroughly afflicted with 
houses, houses not, however, so large and lively as I had ex- 
pected from my dreams of Marseilles. Indeed we seemed to 
be entering an extremely small and rather disagreeable town. 
I ventured to ask what its name was. "Mah-say'' was the re- 
sponse. By this I was fairly puzzled. However the street led 
us to a square, and I saw the towers of a church sitting in 
t*he sky ; between them the round yellow big moon looked im- 
mensely and peacefully conscious ... no one was stirring in 
the little streets, all the houses were keeping the moon's secret, 


A Pilgrim's Progress 53 

We walked on. 
fTwas too tired to think. I merely felt the town as a unique 
unreality. What was it? I knew — the moon's picture of a 
town. These streets with their houses did not exist, they were 
but a ludicrous projection of the moon's sumptuous personality. 
This was a city of Pretend, created by the hypnotism of moon- 
night. — ^Yet when I examined the moon she too seemed but 
a painting of a moon and the sky in which she lived a fragile 
echo of colour. If I blew hard the whole shy mechanism, 
would collapse gently with a neat soundless crash. I must 
not, or lose all. 

We turned a corner, then another. My guides conferred 
concerning the location of something, I couldn't make out 
what. Then the older nodded in the direction of a long dull 
dirty mass not a hundred yards away, which (as near as I 
could see) served either as a church or a tomb. Toward this 
we turned. All too soon I made out its entirely dismal ex- 
terior. Grey long stone walls, surrounded on the street side 
by a fence of ample proportions and uniformly dull colour. 
Now I perceived that we made toward a gate, singularly nar- 
row and forbidding, in the grey long wall. No living soul ap- 
peared to inhabit this desolation. 

The older rang at the gate. A gendarme with a revolver 
answered his ring ; and presently he was admitted, leaving the 
younger and myself to wait. And now I began to realize that 
this was the gendarmerie of the town, into which for safe- 
keeping I was presently to be inducted for the night. ilJiy 
heart sank, I confess, at the thought of sleeping in the dOfff- 
pany of that species of humanity which I had come to detest 
beyond anything in hell or on ealrlHJ Meanwhile the doorman 
had returned with the older, and f was bidden roughly enough 
to pick up my baggage and march. I followed my guides 
down a corridor, up a stair-case, and into a dark, small room 
where a candle was burning. Dazzled by the light and dizzied _ 
by the fatigue of my ten or twelve mile stroll, I let my baggage 
go ; and leaned against a convenient wall, trying to determine 
who was now my tormentor. 

54 The Enormous Room 

Facing me at a table stood a man of about my own height, 
and, as I should judge, about forty years old. His face was 
seedy sallow and long. He had bushy semi-circular eyebrows 
which drooped so much as to reduce his eyes to mere blinking 
slits. His cheeks were so furrowed that they leaned inward. 
He had no nose, properly speaking, but a large beak of pre- 
posterous widthlessness, which gave his whole face the ex- 
pression of falling gravely down-stairs, and quite obliterated 
the unimportant chin. His mouth was made of two long un- 
certain lips which twitched nervously. His cropped black hair 
was rumpled ; his blouse, from which hung a croix de guerre, 
unbuttoned; and his unputteed shanks culminated in bed- 
slippers. In physique he reminded me a little of Ichabqd 
Crane. His neck was exactly like a hen's: I felt sure that 
when he drank he must tilt his head back as hens do in order 
that the liquid may run their throats. But his method of keep- 
ing himself upright, together with certain spasmodic contrac- 
tions of his fingers and the nervous "uh-ah, uh-ah" which 
punctuated his insecure phrases like uncertain commas, com- 
bined to offer the suggestion of a rooster; a rather moth-eaten 
rooster, which took itself tremendously seriously and was 
showing-off to an imaginary group of admiring hens situated 
somewhere in the background of his consciousness. 

"Voiis etes, uh-ah, VAm-e-ri-cdnf" 

*'Je suis Americain/' I admitted. 

"Eh-hi-en uh-ah uh-ah — We were expecting you." He sur- 
veyed me with great interest. 

Behind this seedy and restless personage I noted his abso- 
lute likeness, adorning one of the walls. The rooster was 
faithfully depicted a la Rembrandt at half length in the stir- 
ring guise of a fencer, foil in hand, and wearing enormous 
gloves. The execution of this masterpiece left something to 
be desired ; but the whole betokened a certain spirit and verve, 
on the part of the sitter, which I found difficulty in attributing 
to the being before me. 

''Vous etes uh-ah KEVV-MANGZr 

A Pilgrim's Progress 55 

"What?" I said, completely baffled by this extraordinary 

"Comprenez voiis fran-gaisf* 

''Un peur 

"Bon. Alors, voiis vons ap-pel-lez KEW MANGZ, n'est-ce- 
pas? Edouard KEW-MANGZr 

"Oh," I said, relieved, "yes." It was really amazing, the 
way he writhed around the G. 

"Comment ga se prononce en anglais?" 

I told him. 

He replied benevolently, somewhat troubled "uh-ah uh-ah 
uh-ah— why are you here, KEW-MANGZ?" 

At this question I was for one moment angrier than I had 
ever before been in all my life. Then I realized the abs urdit y 
of the situation, and laughed. — "Sais paTT"^'"'^ "^ 

The questionnaire continued: 

"You were in the Red Cross?" — "Surely, in the Norton 
Harjes Ambulance, Section Sanitaire Vingt-et-Un." — "You 
had a friend there?" — "Naturally." — "// a ecrit, voire ami, 
des betises, n'est ce pasf* — "So they told me. N'en sais 
rien" — "What sort of person was your friend?" — "He 
was a magnificient person, always tres gentil with me." — 
(With a queer pucker the fencer remarked) "Your friend got 
you into a lot of trouble, though." — (To which I replied with 

a broad grin) "N'importe, we are camarades" 

A stream of puzzled uh-ahs followed this reply. The fencer, 
or rooster or whatever he might be, finally, picking up the lamp 
and the lock, said: "Alors, viens avec moi, KEW-MANGZ." 
I started to pick up the sac, but he told me it would be kept in 
the office (we being in the office). I said I had checked a large 
sac and my fur overcoat at Briouse, and he assured me they 
would be sent on by train. He now dismissed the gendarmes, 
who had been listening curiously to the examination. As I 
was conducted from the bureau I asked him point-blank: 
"How long am I to stay here?" — to which he answered "Oh 
peutetre un jour, deux jours, je ne sais pas." 

^6 The Enormous Room 

Two days in a gendarmerie would be enough, I thought. 
We marched out. 

Behind me the bedsHppered rooster uhahingly shuffled. In 
front of me clumsily gamboled the huge imitation of myself. 
It descended the terribly worn stairs. It turned to the right 
and disappeared. . . . 

We were standing in a chapel. 

The shrinking light which my guide held had become sud- 
denly minute; it was beating, senseless and futile, with shrill 
fists upon a thick enormous moisture of gloom. To the left 
and right through lean oblongs of stained glass burst dirty 
burglars of moonlight. The clammy stupid distance uttered 
dimly an uncanny conflict — the mutterless tumbling of brutish 
shadows. A crowding ooze battled with my lungs. My 
nostrils fought against the monstrous atmospheric slime which 
hugged a sweet unpleasant odour. Staring ahead, I gradually 
disinterred the pale carrion of the darkness — an altar, guarded 
with the ugliness of unlit candles, on which stood inexorably 
the efficient implements for eating God. 

I was to be confessed, then, of my guilty conscience, before 
retiring? It boded well for the morrow. 

. . . the measured accents of the fencer: ^^Prenes voire 
paillasse." I turned. He was bending over a formless mass 
in one corner of the room. The ntass stretched half-way to 
the ceiling. It was made of mattress-shapes. I pulled at once 
— burlap, stuffed with prickly straw. I got it on my shoulder. 
"Alors." He lighted me to the door- way by which we had 
entered. (I was somewhat pleased to leave the place.) 

Back, down a corridor, up more stairs; and we are con- 
fronted by a small scarred pair of doors from which hung two 
of the largest padlocks I had ever seen. Being unable to go 
further, I stopped : he produced a huge ring of keys. Fumbled 
with the locks. No sound of life : the keys rattled in the locks 
with surprising loudness ; the latter, with an evil grace, yielded 
— ^the two little miserable doors swung open. 

Into the square blackness I staggered with my paillasse. 
There was no way of judging the size of the dark room which 


A Pilgrim's Progress 57 

uttered no sound. In front of me was a pillar. "Put it down 
by that post, and sleep there for tonight, in the morning nous 
allons voir/' directed the fencer. "You won't need a blanket," 
he added; and the doors clanged, the light and fencer dis- 

^X^^^'^^^ 1^0 second invitation to sleep. Fully dressed, I 
fell on my paillasse with a weariness which I have never felt 
before or since. But I did not close my eyes : for all about 
me there rose a sea of most extraordinary sound . . . the 
hitherto empty and minute room became suddenly enormous: 
weird cries, oaths, laughter, pulling it sideways and backward, 
extending it to inconceivable depth and widtli, telescoping it 
to frig^htful nearness. From all directions, by at least thirty 
voices in eleven languages (I counted as I lay Dutch, Belgian, 
Spanish, Turkish, Arabian, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Ger- 
man, French — and English) at distances varying from seventy 
feet to a few inches, for twenty minutes I was ferociously 
bombarded. Nor was my perplexity purely aural. About five 
minutes after lying down, I saw (by a hitherto unnoticed 
speck of light which burned near the doors which I had 
entered) two extraordinary looking figures — one a well-set man 
with a big, black beard, the other a consumptive with a bald 
head and sickly mustache, both clad only in their knee-length 
chemises, hairy legs naked, feet bare — wander down the room 
and urinate profusely in the corner nearest me. This act ac- 
complished, the figures wandered back, greeted with a volley 
of ejaculatory abuse from the invisible co-occupants of my 
new sleeping-apartment ; and disappeared in darkn^g^ 

I remarked to myself that the gendarmes of this gefiaarmerie 
were peculiarly up in languages, and fell asleep. 



"Vous ne voulez pas de cafef* 

The threatening question recited in a hoarse voice woke 
me like a shot. Sprawled half on and half off my paillasse, 
I looked suddenly up into a juvenile pimply face with a red 
tassel bobbing in its eyes. A boy in a Belgian uniform was 
stooping over me. In one hand a huge pail a third full of 
liquid slime. I said fiercely: ^'Au contraire, je veux hien" 
And collapsed on the mattress. 

"Pas de quart, vousf* the face fired at me. 

"Comprends pas" I replied, wondering what on earth the 
words meant. 



At this moment a tin cup appeared mysteriously out of the 
gloom and was rapidly filled from the pail, after which opera- 
tion the tassel remarked : "Your friend here" and disappeared. 

I decided I had gone completely crazy. 

The cup had been deposited near me. Not daring to ap- 
proach it, I boosted my aching corpse on one of its futile 
elbows and gazed blankly around. My eyes, wading labor- 
iously through a dark atmosphere, a darkness gruesomely 
tactile, percevied only here and there lively patches of vibrat- 
ing humanity. My ears recognized English, something which 
I took to be low-German and which was Belgian, Dutch, 
Polish, and what I guessed .to be Russian. 

Trembling with this chaos, my hand sought the cup. The 
cup was not warm; the contents, which I hastily gulped, were 



Le Nouveau 59 

not even tepid. The taste was dull, almost bitter, clinging, 
thick, nauseating. I felt a renewed interest in living as soon 
as the death ful swallow descended to my abdomen, very much 
as^ "suicide who changes his mind after the fatal dose. I 
'dS:lde31Rat it would be useless to vomit. I sat up. I looked 

The darkness was rapidly going out of the sluggish stinking 
air. I was sitting on my mattress at one end of a sort of room, 
filled with pillars; ecclesiastical in feeling. I already per- 
ceived it to be of enormous length. My mattress resembled an 
island : all around it on the floor at distances varying from a 
quarter of an inch to ten feet (which constituted the limit of 
distinct vision) reposed startling identities. There was blood 
in some of them. Others consisted of a rind of blueish matter 
sustaining a core of yellowish froth. From behind me a 
chunk of hurtling spittle joined its fellows. I decided to stand 

At this moment, at the far end of the room, I seemed to 
see an extraordinary vulture-like silhoudtte leap up^ from 
nowhere. It rushed a little way in my direction crying hoarsely 
"Corvee d'eaul" — stopped, bent down at what I perceived to 
be a paillasse like mine, jerked what was presumably the oc- 
cupant by the feet, shook him, turned to the next, and so on 
up to six. As there seemed to be innumerable paillasses, laid 
side by side at intervals of perhaps a foot with their heads to 
the wall on three sides of me, I was wondering why the vulture 
had stopped at six. On each mattress a crude imitation of 
humanity, wrapped ear-high in its blanket, lay and drank 
from a cup like mine and spat long and high into the room. 
The ponderous reek of sleepy bodies undulated toward me 
from three directions. I had lost sight of the vulture in a 
kind of insane confusion which arose from the further end of 
the room. It was as if he had touched off six high explosives. 
Occasional pauses in the minutely crazy din were accurately 
punctuated by exploding bowels; to the great amusement of 
innumerable somebodies, whose precise whereabouts the gloom 
carefully guarded. 

6o The Enormous Room 

I felt that I was the focus of a group of indistinct re- 
cumbents who were talking about me to one another in many 
incomprehensible tongues. I noticed beside every pillar (in- 
cluding the one beside which I had innocently thrown down 
my mattress the night before) a goodsized pail, overflowing 
with urine, and surrounded by a large irregular puddle. My 
mattress was within an inch of the nearest puddle. What I 
took to be a man, an amazing distance off, got out of bed 
and succeeded in locating the pail nearest to him after several 
attempts. Ten invisible recumbents yelled at him in six 

All at once a handsome figure rose from the gloom at my 
elbow. I smiled stupidly into his clear hardish eyes. And 
he remarked pleasantly : 

"Your friend's here, Johnny, and wants to see you." 

A bulge of pleasure swooped along my body, chasing aches 
and numbness, my muscles danced, nerves tingled in perpetual 

B. was lying on his camp-cot, wrapped like an Eskimo in a 
blanket which hid all but his nose and eyes. |H 

"Hello, Cummmgs,'' he said smiling. "There's a man heff 
who is a friend of Vanderbilt and knew Cezanne." 

I gazed somewhat critically at B. There was nothing par- 
ticularly insane about him, unless it was his enthusiastic ex- 
citement, which might almost be attributed to my jack-in-the- 
box manner of arriving. He said : "There are people here who 
speak English, Russian, Arabian. There are the finest people 
here ! Did you go to Gre ? I fought rats all night there. Huge 
ones. They tried to eat me. And from Gre to Paris ? I had 
three gendarmes all the way to keep me from escaping, and 
they all fell asleep." 

I began to be afraid that I was asleep myself. "Please be 
frank," I begged. "Strictly entre nous: am I dreaming, or is 
this a bug-house?" 

B. laughed, and said : "I thought so when I arrived two 
days ago. When I came in sight of the place a lot of girls 
waved from the w^indow and yelled at me. I no sooner got 

Le Nouveau 6i 

inside than a queer looking duck whom I took to be a nut came 
rushing up to me and cried: 'Too late for soup!' — ^This is 
Camp de Triage de la Ferte Mace, Orne, France, and all these 
fine people were arrested as spies. Only two or three of them 
can speak a word of French, and that's soupe!" 

I said, "My God, I thought Marseilles was somewhere on the 
Mediterranean Ocean, and that this was a gendarmerie." 

"But this is M-a-c-e. It's a little mean town, where every- 
body snickers and sneers at you if they see you're a prisoner. 
They did at me." 

"Do you mean to say we're espions too?" 

"Of course!" B. said enthusiastically. "Thank God! And 
in to stay. Everytime I think of the section sanitaire, and A 
and his thugs, and the whole rotten red-taped Croix Rouge, 
I have to laugh. Cummings, I tell you this is the finest place 
on earth !" 

A vision of the Chef de la section Sanitaire Vingt-et-Un 
passed through my mind. The doughy face. Imitation-Eng- 
lish-ofificer swagger. Large calves, squeaking puttees. The 
daily lecture: "I doughno what's th'matter with you fellers. 
You look like nice boys. Well-edjucated. But you're so dirty 
in your habits. You boys are always kickin' because I don't 
put you on a car together. I'm ashamed to do it, that's why. 
I doughtwanta give this section a black eye. We gotta show 
these lousy Frenchmen what Americans are. We gotta show 
we're superior to 'em. Those bastards doughno what a bath 
means. And you fellers are always hangin* 'round, talkin* 
with them dirty frog-eaters that does the cookin' and the dirty 
work 'round here. How d'you boys expect me to give you a 
chance? I'd like to put you fellers on a car, I wanta see you 
boys happy. But I don't dare to, that's why. If you want 
me to send you out, you gotta shave and look neat, and keep 
away from them dirty Frenchmen. We Americans are over 
here to learn them lousy bastards something." 

I laughed for sheer joy. 

A terrific tumult interrupted mfy mirth. "Par ici!" — "Get 
out of the way you damn Polak !" — "M'sieu, M'sieu 1" — "Over 

62 The Enormous Room 

here !" — ''Mais nonT — ''Gott-ver-dummer T I turned in terror 
to see my paillasse in the clutches of four men who were ap- 
parently rending it in as many directions. 

One was a clean-shaved youngish man with lively eyes, alert 
and muscular, whom I identified as the man who had called 
me "Johnny/ He had hold of a corner of the mattress and 
was pulling against the possessor of the opposite corner: an 
incoherent personage enveloped in a buffoonery of amazing 
rags and patches, with a shabby head on which excited wisps 
of dirty hair stood upright in excitement, and the tall, ludicrous, 
extraordinary, almost noble figure of a dancing bear. A third 
corner of the paillasse was rudely grasped by a six-foot com- 
bination of{ yellow hair, red hooligan face, and sky-blue 
trousers ; assisted by the undersized tasseled mucker in Belgian 
uniform, with a pimply rogue's mug and unlimited impertinence 
of diction, who had awakened me by demanding if I wanted 
coffee. Albeit completely dazed by the uncouth vocal fracas, 
I realized in some manner that these hostile forces were con- 
tending, not for the possession of the mattress, but merely for 
the privilege of presenting the mattress to myself. 

Before I could offer any advice on this delicate topic, a 
childish voice cried emphatically beside my ear : "Put the mat- 
tress here! What are you trying to do? There's no use des- 
troy-ing a mat-tress!" — at the same moment the mattress 
^rushed with cobalt strides in my direction, propelled by the 
successful efforts of the Belgian uniform and the hooligan 
visage, the clean-shaven man and the incoherent bear still 
desperately clutching their respective corners; and upon its 
arrival was seized with surprising strength by the owner of 
the child's voice — a fluffy little gnome-shaped man with a sensi- 
tive face which had suffered much — and indignantly deposited 
beside B.'s bed in a space mysteriously cleared for its reception. 
The gnome immediately kneeled upon it and fell to carefully 
smoothing certain creases caused by the recent conflict, ex- 
claiming slowly syllable by syllable : "Mon Dieu. Now, that's 
better, you musn't do things like that." The clean-shaven man 
regarded him loftily with folded arms, while the tassel and 

Le Nouveau 63 

the trousers victoriously inquired if I had a cigarette? — and 
upon receiving one apiece (also the gnome, and the clean- 
shaven man, who accepted his with some dignity) sat down 
without much ado on B.'s bed — which groaned ominously in 
protest — and hungrily fired questions at me. The bear mean- 
while, looking as if nothing had happened, adjusted his ruf- 
fled costume with a satisfied air and (calmly gazing into the 
distance) began with singularly delicate fingers to stuff a 
stunted and ancient pipe with what appeared to be a mixture 
of wood and manure. 

I was still answering questions, when a gnarled voice sud- 
denly threatened, over our head: "Broom? You. Everybody. 
Clean. Surveillant says. Not me, no?" — I started, expecting 
to see a parrot. 

It was the silhouette. 

A vulturelike figure stood before me, a demoralised broom 
clenched in one claw or fist : it had lean legs cased in shabby 
trousers, muscular shoulders covered with a rough shirt open 
at the neck, knotted arms, and a coarse insane face crammed 
beneath the visor of a cap. The face consisted of a rapid 
nose, droopy mustache, ferocious watery small eyes, a pugnaci- 
ous chin, and sunken cheeks hideously smiling. There was 
something in the ensemble at once brutal and ridiculous, vigor- 
ous and pathetic. 

Again I had not time to speak; for the hooligan in azure 
trousers hurled his butt at the bear's feet, exclaiming : "There's 
another for you Polak!" — jumped from the bed, seized the 
broom, and poured upon the vulture a torrent of Gott-ver- 
dummers, to which the latter replied copiously and in kind. 
Then the red face bent within a few inches of my own, and 
for the first time I saw that it had recently been young — "I 
say I do your sweep for you" it translated pleasantly. I thanked 
it ; and the vulture, exclaiming : "Good. Good. Not me. Surveil- 
lant. Harree does it for everybody. Hee, hee" — rushed off, fol- 
lowed by Harree and the tassel. Out of the corner of my eye 
I watched the tall, ludicrous, extraordinary, almost proud figure 
of the bear stoop with quiet dignity, the musical fingers dose 

64 The Enormous Room 

With a singular delicacy upon the moist indescribable eighth- 
of-an-inch of tobacco. 

I did not know that this was a Delectable Mountain. . . . 

The clean-shaven man (who appeared to have been com- 
pletely won over by his smoke), and the fluffy gnome, who 
had completed the arrangement of my paillasse, now entered 
into conversation with myself and B; the clean-shaven one 
seating himself in Harree's stead, the gnome declining (on the 
ground that the bed was already sufficiently loaded) to occupy 
the place left vacant by the tassel's exit, and leaning against 
the drab, sweating, poisonous wall. He managed, however, to 
call our attention to the shelf at B's head which he himself 
had constructed, and promised me a similar luxury toute de 
suite. He was a Russian, and had a wife and gosse in Paris. 
"My name is Monsieur Au-guste, at your service" — and his 
gentle pale eyes sparkled. The clean-shaven talked distinct 
and absolutely perfect English. His name was Fritz. He was 
a Norwegian, a stoker on a ship. "You mustn't mind that 
feller that wanted you to sweep. He's crazy. They call him 
John the Baigneur. He used to be the bathman. Now he's 

Maitre de Chamhre. They wanted me to take it — I said, *F 

it, I don't want it.' Let him have it. That's no kind of a job, 
everyone complaining and on top of you morning till night. 
*Let them that wants the job take it' I said. That crazy Dutch- 
iman's been here for two years. They told him to get out and he 
wouldn't, he was too fond of the booze" (I jumped at the slang) 
'"and the girls. They took it away from John and give it to that 
little Ree-shar feller, that doctor. That was a swell job he 
had, baigneur, too. All the bloody liquor you can drink and 
a girl every time you want one. He ain't never had a girl in 
his life, that Ree-shar feller." His laughter was hard, clear, 
cynical. "That Pompom, the little Belgian feller was just 
here, he's a great one for the girls. He and Harree. Always 
getting cahinot. .1 got it twice myself since I been here." 
I All this time the enormous room was filling gradually with 
jdirty light. In the further end six figures were brooming 
furiously, yelling to each other in the dust like demons. A 

Le Nouveau 65 

seventh, Harree, was loping to and fro splashing water from 
a pail and enveloping everything and everybody in a ponder- 
ous and blasphemous fog of Gott-ver-durnmers. Along three 
sides (with the exception, that is, of the nearer end, which 
boasted the sole door) were laid, with their lengths at right 
angles to the wall, at intervals of three or four feet, something- 
like forty paillasses. On each, with half a dozen exceptions 
(where the occupants had not yet finished their coffee or were 
on duty for the corvee) lay the headless body of a man 
smothered in its blanket, only the boots showing. 

The demons were working towards our end of the room. 
Harree had got his broom and was assisting. Nearer and 
nearer they came ; converging, they united their separate heaps 
of filth in a loudly stinking single mound at the door. Brooms 
were stacked against the wall in the corner. The men strolled 
back to their mattresses. 

Monsieur Auguste, whose French had not been able to keep 
pace with Fritz's English, saw his chance, and proposed "now 
that the Room is all clean, let us go take a little walk, the three 
of us." Fritz understood perfectly, and rose, remarking as he 
fingered his immaculate chin "Well, I guess I'll take a shave 
before the bloody planton comes" — and Monsieur Auguste, B., 
and I started down the room. 

It was in shape oblong, about 80 feet by 40, unmistakably 
ecclesiastical in feeling; two rows of wooden pillars, spaced 
at intervals of fifteen feet, rose to a vaulted ceiling 25 or 30 
feet above the floor. As you stood with your back to the door, 
and faced down the room, you had in the near right-hand 
corner (where the brooms stood) six pails of urine. On the 
right-hand long wall, a little beyond the angle of this corner, 
a few boards, tacked together in any fashion to make a two- 
sided screen four feet in height, marked the position of a 
cabinet d'aisance, composed of a small coverless tin pail identi- 
cal with the other six, and a board of the usual design which 
could be placed on the pail or not as desired. The wooden 
floor in the neighborhood of the booth and pails was of a dark 

66 The Enormous Room 

colour, obviously owing to the continual overflow of their 

The right-hand long wall contained something like ten large 
windows, of which the first was commanded by the somewhat 
primitive cabinet. There were no other windows in the remain- 
ing walls; or they had been carefully rendered useless. In 
spite of this fact, the inhabitants had contrived a couple of 
peep-holes — one in the door-end and one in the left-hand long 
wall ; the former commanding the gate by which I had entered, 
the latter a portion of the street by which I had reached the 
gate. The blocking of all windows on three sides had an 
obvious significance: les hommes were not supposed to see 
anything which went on in the world without; les hommes 
might, however, look their fill on a little washing-shed, on a 
corner of what seemed to be another wing of the building, and 
on a bleak lifeless abject landscape of scrubby woods beyond — 
which constituted the view from the ten windows on the right. 
The authorities had miscalculated a little in one respect: a 
merest fraction of the barb-wire pen which began at the corner 
of the above-mentioned building was visible from these win- 
dows, which windows (I was told) were consequently thronged 
by fighting men at the time of the girl's promenade. An 
planton, I was also told, may it his business, by keeping les 
femmes out of this corner of their cour at the point of the 
bayonet to deprive them of the sight of their admirers. In 
addition, it was dry bread or cahinot for any of either sex 
who were caught communicating with each other. Moreover 
the promenades of the men and the women occurred at roughly 
speaking the same hour, so that a man or woman who re- 
mained upstairs on the chance of getting a smile or a wave 
from his or her girl or lover lost the promenade thereby. . . . 

We had in succession gazed from the windows, crossed the 
end of the room, and started down the other side, Monsieur 
Auguste marching between us — when suddenly B. exclaimed 
in English "Good morning! How are you today?" And I 
looked across Monsieur Auguste, anticipating another Harree 
or at least a Fritz. What was my surprise to see a spare ma- 

Le Nouveau 67 

jestic figure of manifest refinement, immaculately apparelled in 
a crisp albeit collarless shirt, carefully mended trousers in 
which the remains of a crease still lingered, a threadbare but 
perfectly fitting swallow-tail coat, and newly varnished (if 
somewhat ancient) shoes. Indeed for the first time since my 
arrival at La Ferte I was confronted by a perfect type: the 
apotheosis of injured nobility, the humiliated victim of per- 
fectly unfortunate circumstances, the utterly respectable gen- 
tleman who has seen better days. There was about him, more- 
over, something irretrievably English, nay even pathetically 
Victorian — it was as if a page of Dickens was shaking my 
friend^s hand. "Count Bragard, I want you to meet my friend 
Cummings" — he saluted me in modulated and courteous ac- 
cents of indisputable culture, gracefully extending his pale 
hand. "I have heard a great deal about you from B., and 
wanted very much to meet you. It is a pleasure to find a 
friend of my friend B., someone congenial and intelligent 
in contrast to these swine" — ^he indicated the room with a ges- 
ture of complete contempt. "I see you were strolling. Let us 
take a turn." Monsieur Auguste said tactfully, "FU see 
you soon, friends," and left us with an affectionate shake of 
the hand and a sidelong glance of jealousy and mistrust at B's 
respectable friend. 

"You're looking pretty well today. Count Bragard," B.said 

"I do well enough," the count answered. "It is a fright- 
ful strain — you of course realize that — for anyone who has 
been accustomed to the decencies, let alone the luxuries, of life. 
This filth" — he pronounced the word with indescribable bit- 
terness — "This herding of men like cattle — they treat us no 
better than pigs her^'^The fellows drop their dung in the very 
room where they sleep. What is one to expect of a place like 
this? Ce n'est pas une existence" — ^his French was glib and 

"I was telling my friend that you knew Cezanne," said B. 
"Being an artist he was naturally much interested." 

Count Bragard stopped in astonishment, and withdrew his 

68 The Enormous Room 

hands slowly from the tails of his coat. "Is it possible!" tie 
exclaimed, in great agitation. "What an astonishing coinci- 
dence! I am myself a painter. You perhaps noticed this 
Ijadge" — he indicated a button attached to his left lapel, and 
I bent and read the words : On War Service. "I always wear 
it," he said with a smile of faultless sorrow, and resumed his 
walk. "They don't know what it means here, but I wear it all 
the same. I was a special representative for The London 
Sphere at the front in this war. I did the trenches and all 
that sort of thing. They paid me well ; I got fifteen pounds a 
week. And why not? I am an R. A. My specialty was 
horses. I painted the finest horses in England, among them 
the King's own entry in the last Derby. Do you know Lon- 
don?" We said no. "If you are ever in London, go to the" 
(I forget the name) "Hotel — one of the best in town. It ha 
a beautiful large bar, exquisitely furnished in the very best 

taste. Anyone will tell you where to find the ■■ — . It has 

one of my paintings over the bar: "Straight- jacket" (or some 

such name) "The Marquis of 's horse, who won last time 

the race was run. I was in America in 1910. You know 
Cornelius Vanderbilt perhaps? I painted some of his horses. 
We were the best of friends, Vanderbilt and I. I got hand- 
some prices, you understand, three, five, six thousand pounds. 
When I left, he gave me this card — I have it here some- 
where — " he again stopped, sought in his breast-pocket a 
moment, and produced a visiting card. On one side I read 
the name "Cornelius Vanderbilt" — on the other, in bold hand- 
writing — "to my very dear friend Count F. A. de Bragard" and 
a date. "He hated to have me go." 

I was walking in a dream. 

"Have you your sketch-books and paints with you? What 
a pity. I am always intending to send to England for mine, 
but you know — one can't paint in a place like this. It is im- 
possible — all this dirt and these filthy people — it stinks ! Ugh !" 

I forced myself to say: "How did you happen to come 

He shrugged his shoulders. "How indeed, you may well 

Le Nouveau 69 

ask ! I cannot tell you. It must have been some hideous mis- 
take. As soon as I got here I spoke to the Directeur and to 
the Surveillant. The Directeur said he knew nothing about 
it ; the Surveillant told me confidentially that it was a mistake 
on the part of the French government; that I would be out 
directly. He's not such a bad sort. So I am waiting ; every day I 
expect orders from the English government for my release. The 
whole thing is preposterous. I wrote to the Embassy and told 
them so. As soon as I set foot outside this place, I shall sue the 
French government for ten thousand pounds for the loss of 
time it has occasioned me. Imagine it — I had contracts with 
countless members of The Lords — and the war came. Then I 
was sent to the front by The Sphere — and here I am, every day 
costing me dear, rotting away in this horrible place. The time 
I have wasted here has already cost me a. fortune." "^ 
""He paused directly in front of the door and spoke with 
solemnity: "A man might as well be dead." 

Scarcely had the words passed his lipswhen I almost jumped 
out of my skin, for directly before us on the other side of the 
wall arose the very noise which announced to Scrooge the ap- 
proach of Marley's ghost, — a dismal clanking and rattling of 
chains. Had Marley's transparent figure walked ,straight 
through the wall and up to the Dickensian character at my side, 
I would have been less surprised than I was by what actually 

The doors opened with an uncanny bang and in the bang 
stood a fragile minute queer figure, remotely suggesting an old 
man. The chief characteristic of the apparition was a cer- 
tain disagreeable nudity which resulted from its complete lack 
of all the accepted appurtenances and prerogatives of old age. 
Its little stooping body, helpless and brittle, bore with extra- 
ordinary difficulty a head of absurd largeness, yet which moved 
on the fleshless neck with a horrible agility. Dull eyes sat in 
the clean-shaven wrinkles of a face neatly hopeless. At the 
knees a pair of hands hung, infantile in their smallness. In the 
loose mouth a tiny cigarette had perched and was solemnly 
smoking itselfTl 


/> ./^ 

(i?>^ ^.^6 

70 The Enormous Room 

Suddenly the figure darted at me with a spiderHke entirety. 

I felt myself lost. 

A voice said mechanically from the vicinity of my feet: '7/ 
vous faut prendre la douche'' — I stared stupidly. The spectre 
was poised before me; its averted eyes contemplated the win- 
dow. *'Take your bath/* it added as an afterthought, in Eng- 
lish — "Come with me." It turned suddenly. It hurried to the 
doorway. I followed. Its rapid deadly doll-like hands shut 
and skillfully locked the doors in a twinkling. "Come," its 
voice said. 

It hurried before me down two dirty flights of narrow muti- 
late^d stairs. It turned left, and passed through an open door. 

I found myself in the wet sunless air of morning. 

To the right it hurried, following the wall of the building. 
I pursued it mechanically. At the corner, which I had seen 
from the window upstairs, the barbed-wire fence eight feet in 
height began. The thing paused, produced a key and unlocked a 
gate. The first three or four feet of wire swung inward. He 
entered. I after him. 

In a flash the gate was locked behind me, and I was fol- 
lowing along a wall at right angles to the first. I strode after 
the thing. A moment before I had been walking in a free 
world : now I was again a prisoner. The sky was still over me, 
the clammy morning caressed me ; but walls of wire and stone 
told me that my instant of freedom had departed. I was in 
fact traversing a lane no wider than the gate ; on my left, barb- 
wire separated me from the famous cour in which les femmes 
se promenent — 2l rectangle about 50 feet deep and 200 long, 
with a stone wall at the further end of it and otherwise sur- 
rounded by wire; — on my right, grey sameness of stone, the 
ennui of the regular and the perpendicular, the ponderous 
ferocity of silence .... 

I had taken automatically some six or eight steps in pursuit 
of the fleeing spectre when, right over my head, the grey stone 
curdled with a female darkness; the hard and the angular soft- 
ening in a putrescent explosion of thick wriggling laughter. I 
started, looked up, and encountered a window stuffed with four 


Le Nouveau 71 

savage fragments of crowding Face: four livid, shaggy disks 
focussing hungrily; four pair of uncouth eyes rapidly smoul- 
dering ; eight lips shaking in a toothless and viscous titter. Sud- 
denly above and behind these terrors rose a single horror of 
beauty — a crisp vital head, a young ivory actual face, a night 
of firm, alive, icy hair, a white large frightful smile. 

. . . The thing was crying two or three paces in front of 
me : "Come 1" The heads had vanished as by magic. 

I dived forward; followed through a littlq door in the wall 
into a room about fifteen feet square, occupied by a small stove, 
a pile of wood, and a ladder. He plunged through another 
even smaller door, into a bleak rectangular place, where I was 
confronted on the left by a large tin bath and on the right by 
ten wooden tubs, each about a yard in diameter, set in a row 
against the wall. *'Undress" commanded the spectre. I did 
so. "Go into the first one.'' I climbed into the tub. "You shall 
pull the string," the spectre said, hurriedly throwing his cigar- 
ette into a corner. I stared upward, and discovered a string 
dangling from a kind of reservoir over my head : I pulled : and 
was saluted by a stabbing crash of icy water. I leaped from 
the tub. "Here is your napkin. Make dry yourself" — he 
handed me a piece of cloth a little bigger than a handkerchief. 
"Hurrqe." I donned my clothes, wet and shivering and al- 
together miserable. "Good. Come now!" I followed him, 
through the room with the stove, into the barb- wire lane. A 
hoarse shout rose from the yard — which was filled with women, 
girls, children, and a baby or two. I thought I recognized one 
of the four terrors who had saluted me from the window, in a 
girl of 18 with a soiled slobby body huddling beneath its dingy 
dress; her bony shoulders stifled in a shawl upon which ex- 
cremental hair limply spouted; a huge empty mouth; and a 
red nose, sticking between the bluish cheeks that shook with 
spasms of coughing. Just inside the wire a figure reminiscent 
of Gre, gun on shoulder, revolver on hip, moved monotonously. 

The apparition hurried me through the gate, and along the 
wall into the building, where instead of mounting the stairs he 
pointed down a long, gloomy corridor with a square of light at 

The Enormous Room 

e end of it, saying rapidly "Go to the promenade" — and 

With the laughter of the Five still ringing in my ears, and 
no ve ry clear ^concegtion^f the jmeaning of existence,! I stum- 
bled dowiTlhe corridor; bumping squarely into a beefy figure 
with a bull's neck and the familiar revolver who demanded 
furiously: "What are you doing there? Nom de Dieu!" — 
"Pardon. Les douches" I answered, quelled by the collision. 
— He demanded in wrathy French "Who took you to the 
douches?" — For a moment I was at a complete loss — ^then 
Fritz's remark about the new baigneur flashed through my 
mind : "Ree-shar" I answered calmly. — The bull snorted satis- 
factorily. "G€t into the cour and hurry up about it" he ordered. 
— ''Cest par la?" I inquired politely. — He stared at me con- 
temptuously without answering; so I took it upon myself to 
use the nearest door, hoping that he would have the decency 
not to shoot me. I had no sooner crossed the threshold when 
I found myself once more in the welcome air; and not ten 
paces away I espied B. peacefully lounging, with some thirty 
others, within a cour about one quarter the size of the women's. 
I marched up to a little dingy gate in the barbed wire fence, and 
was hunting for the latch (as no padlock was in evidence) 
when a scared voice cried loudly "Qu'est ce que vous faites Id!" 
and I found myself stupidly looking into a rifle. B., Fritz. 
Harree, Pompom, Monsieur Auguste, The Bear, and last but 
not least Count de Bragard immediately informed the trembling 
planton that I was a Nouveau who had just returned from the 
douches to which I had been escorted by Monsieur Reeshar, 
and that I should be admitted to the cour by all means. The 
cautious watcher of the skies was not, however, to be fooled 
by an such fol-de-rol and stood his ground. Fortunately at 
this point the beefy planton yelled from the doorway "Let him 
in," and I was accordingly let in, to the gratification of my 
friends, and against the better judgment of the guardian of 
the cour, who muttered something about having more than 
enough to do already. 

I had not been mistaken as to the size of the men's yard: 

Le Nouveau 73 

it was certainly not. more than twenty yards deep and fifteen 
wide. By the distinctness with which the shouts of les femmes 
reached my ears 1 perceived that the two cours adjoined. 
They were separated by a stone wall ten feet in height, which 
I had already remarked (while en route to les douches) as 
forming one end of the cour des femmes. The men's cour 
had another stone wall slightly higher than the first, and which 
ran parallel to it; the two remaining sides, which were prop- 
erly ends, were made by the familiar barbed wire. 

The furniture of the cour was simple : in the middle of the 
further end, a wooden sentry-box was placed just inside the 
wire; a curious contrivance, which I discovered to be a sister 
to the booth upstairs, graced the wall on the left which 
separated the two cours, while further up on this wall a hori- 
zontal iron bar projected from the stone at a height of seven 
feet and was supported at its other end by a wooden post, 
the idea apparently being to give the prisoners a little taste of 
gymnastics ; a minute wooden shed filled the right upper corner 
and served secondarily as a very partial shelter for the men 
and primarily as a stable for an extraordinary water-wagon, 
composed of a wooden barrel on two wheels with shafts which 
would not possible accommodate anything larger than a diminu- 
tive donkey (but in which I myself was to walk not infre- 
quently, as it proved) ; parallel to the second stone wall, but at 
a safe distance from it, stretched a couple of iron girders 
serving as a barbarously cold seat for any unfortunate who 
could not remain on his feet the entire time; on the ground 
close by the shed lay amusement devices Numbers Two and 
Three — a huge iron cannon-ball and the six-foot iron axle of a 
departed wagon — for testing the strength of the prisoners and 
beguiling any time which might lie heavily on their hands after 
they had regaled themselves with the horizontal bar; and 
finally, a dozen mangy apple-trees, fighting for their very lives 
in the angry soil, proclaimed to all the world that the cour 
itself was in reality a verger. 

"Les pommiers sont pleins de pommes; 

Allons au verger, Simone." . . . 



74 The Enormous Room 

A description of the cour would be incomplete without an 
enumeration of the manifold duties of the plant on in charge, 
which were as follows: to prevent the men from using the 
horizontal bar, except for chinning, since if you swung your- 
self upon it you could look over the wall into the worhen's 
cour; to see that no one threw anything over the wall into said 
cour; to dodge the cannon-ball which had a mysterious habit 
of taking advantage of the slope of the ground and bounding 
along at a prodigious rate of speed straight for the sentry- 
box; to watch closely anyone who inhabited the cabinet 
d'aisance, lest he should make use of it to vault over the wall ; 
to see that no one stood on the girders, for a similar reason; 
to keep watch over any one who entered the shed ; to see that 
everyone urinated properly against the wall in the general 
vicinity of the cabinet; to protect the apple-trees into which 
well-aimed pieces of wood and stone were continually flying 
and dislodging the sacred fruit; to mind that no one entered 
or exited by the gate in the upper fence without authority ; to 
report any signs, words, tokens, or other immoralities ex- 
changed by prisoners with girls sitting in the windows of the 
women's wing (it was from one of these windows that I had 
recently received my salutation), also names of said girls, it 
being forbidden to exhibit any part of the female person at 
a window while the males were on promenade ; to quell all 
fights and especially to prevent people from using the wagon 
axle as a weapon of defense or offense; and last, to keep an 
eye on the sweeper when he and his wheelbarrow made use of 
a secondary gate situated in the fence at the further end, not 
far from the sentry-box, to dump themselves. 

Having acquainted me with the various defendus which 
limited the activities of a man on promenade, my friends pro- 
ceeded to enliven the otherwise somewhat tedious morning by 
shattering one after another all rules and regulations. Fritz, 
having chinned himself fifteen times, suddenly appeared astride 
of the bar, evoking a reprimand ; Pompom bowled the planton 
with the cannon-ball, apologizing in profuse and vile French; 
Harree the .Hollander tossed the wagon-axle lightly half the 


Le Nouveau 75 

length of the cour, missing The Bear by an inch; The Bear 
bided his time and cleverly hurled a large stick into one of 
the holy trees, bringing to the ground a withered apple for 
which at least twenty people fought for several minutes; and 
so on. The most open gestures were indulged in for the 
benefit of several girls who had braved the official wrath and 
were enjoying the morning at their windows. The girders 
were used as a race-track. The beams supporting the shed- 
roof were shinned. The water-wagon was dislocated from its 
proper position. The cabinet and urinal were misused. The 
gate was continually admitting and emitting persons who said 
they were thirsty, and must get a drink at a tub of water which 
stood around the corner. A letter was surreptitiously thrown 
over the wall into the cour des femmes. 

The planton who suffered all these indignities was a solemn 
youth with wise eyes situated very far apart in a mealy ex- 
pressionless elipse of face, to the lower end of which clung a 
piece of down, exactly like a feather sticking to an ^gg. The 
rest of him was fairly normal with the exception of his hands, 
which were not mates ; the left being considerably larger, and 
made of wood. 

I was at first somewhat startled by this eccentricity ; but soon 
learned that with the exception of two or three, who "Formed 
the Surveillanfs permanent staff and of whom the beefy one 
was a shining example, all the plantons were supposed to be un- 
healthy ; they were indeed the disabled whom le gouvernement 
franqais sent from time to time to La Ferte and similar insti- 
tutions for a little outing, and as soon as they had recovered 
their health under these salubrious Influences they were shipped 
back to do their bit for world-safety, democracy, freedom, etc.. 
In the trenches. I also learned that, of all the ways of attaining 
cabinof, by far the simplest was to apply to a planton, par- 
ticularly to a permanent planton, say the beefy one (who was 
reputed to be peculiarly touchy on this point) the term 
embusque. This method never failed. To Its efficacy many of 
the men and more of the girls (by whom the plantons, owing 
to their habit of taking advantage of the weaker sex at every 

76 The Enormous Room 

opportunity, were even more despised) attested by not 
infrequent spasms of consumptive coughing, which could 
be plainly heard from the further end of one cour to the other. 

In a little over two hours I learned an astonishing lot about 
La Ferte itself: it was a co-educational receiving station 
whither were sent from various parts of France (a) males 
suspected of espionage and (b) females of a well-known type 
found in the zone of the armies. It was pointed out to me 
that the task of finding such members of the human race was 
pas difficile : in the case of the men, any foreigner would do, 
provided his country was neutral (e.g. Holland) : as for the 
girls, inasmuch as the armies of the Allies were continually 
retreating, the ^one des armees (particularly in the case of 
Belgium) was always including new cities, whose petifes 
femmes became automatically subject to arrest. It was not to 
be supposed that all the women of La Ferte were putains: 
there were a large number of respectable women, the wives of 
prisoners, who met their husbands at specified times on the 
floor below the men's quarters, whither man and woman were 
duly and separately conducted by plantons. In this case no 
charges had been preferred against the women ; they were 
voluntary prisoners, who had preferred to freedom this liv- 
ing in proximity to their husbands. Many of them had chil- 
dren; some babies. In addition there were certain femmes 
honnettes whose nationality, as in the case of the men, had 
cost them their liberty ; Marguerite the washerwoman, for ex- 
ample, was a German. 

La Ferte Mace was not properly speaking a prison, but a 
Porte or Detention Camp : that is to say, persons sent to it were 
held for a Commission, composed of an official, a lawyer, and 
a captain of gendarmes, which inspected the Camp and passed 
upon each case in turn for the purpose of determining the 
guiltiness of the suspected party. If the latter were found 
guilty by the Commission, he or she was sent oflF to a regular 
prison camp for the duration of the war; if not guilty, he or 
she was (in theory) 'set free. The Commission came to La 
Ferte once every three months. It should be added that there 

Le Nouveau 77 

were prisoners who had passed the Commission, two, three, 
four, and even five times, without any appreciable result; 
there were prisonieres who had remained in La Ferte a year, 
and even eighteen months. 

The authorities at La Ferte consisted of the Directeur, or 
general overlord, the Surveillant, who had the plantons (order- 
lies) under him and was responsible to the Directeur for the 
administration of the camp, and the Gestionnaire (who kept 
the accounts). As assistant, the Surveillant had a mail clerk 
who acted as translator on occasion. Twice a week the camp 
was visited by a regular French army doctor (medecin major) 
who was supposed to prescribe in severe cases and to give the 
women venereal inspection at regular intervals. The daily 
routine of attending to minor ailments and injuries was in the 
hands of Monsieur Ree-shar (Richard), who knew probably 
less about medicine than any man living and was an ordinary 
prisoner like all of us, but whose impeccable conduct merited 
cosy quarters. A sweeper was appointed from time to time 
by the Surveillant, acting for the Directeur, from the inhabi- 
tants of La Ferte; as was also a cook's assistant. The reg- 
ular cook was a fixture, and a Boche like the other fixtures, 
Marguerite and Richard. This fact might seem curious were 
it not that the manner, appearance and actions of the Directeur 
himself proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was all 
which the term Boche could possibly imply. 

"He's a son-of-a-bitch," B. said heartily. "They took me up 
to him when I came two days ago. As soon as he saw me 
he bellowed : 'Imbecile et inchretienf/ ; then he called me a 
great lot of other things, including Shame of my country. 
Traitor to the sacred cause of Liberty, Contemptible coward 
and Vile sneaking spy. When he got all through I said T 
don't understand French.' You should have seen him then." 

Separation of the sexes was enforced, not, it is true, with 
success, but with a commendable ferocity. The punishments 
for both men and girls were dry bread and cabinot, 
I "What on earth is cabinot f' I demanded. 

There were various cabinots : each sex had its regular cabinot, 

yS The Enormous Room 

and there were certain extra ones. B. knew all about them 
from Harree and Pompom, who spent nearly all their time in 
the cabinot. They were rooms about nine feet square and six 
feet high. There was no light and no floor, and the ground 
(three were on the ground floor) was always wet and often a 
good many inches under water. The occupant on entering 
was searched for tobacco, deprived of his or her mattress and 
blanket, and invited to sleep on the ground on some planks. 
One didn't need to write a letter to a member of the opposite 
sex to get cabinot, or even to call a planton embusque — there 
was a woman, a foreigner, who, instead of sending a letter 
to her embassy through the bureau (where all letters were 
read by the mail clerk to make sure that they said nothing dis- 
agreeable about the authorities or conditions of La Ferte) tried 
to smuggle it outside, and got twenty-eight days of cabinot. She 
had previously written three times, handing the letters to the 
Surveillant, as per regulations, and had received no reply. Fritz, 
who had no idea why he was arrested and was crazy to get in 
touch with his embassy, had likewise written several letters, tak- 
ing the utmost care to state the facts only and always handing 
them in ; but he had never received a word in return. The obvi- 
ous inference was that letters from a foreigner to his embassy 
were duly accepted by th^ Surveillant (Warden), but rarely, 
if ever, left La Ferte. 

B. and I were conversing merrily apropos the God-sent 
miracle of our escape from Vingt-et-tJn, when a benign-faced 
personage of about fifty with sparse greyish hair and a Ben- 
jamin Franklin expression appeared on the other side of the 
fence, from the direction of the door through which I had 
passed after bumping the beefy bull. "Planton'' it cried heavily 
to the wooden-handed one, "Two men to go get water." Harree 
and Pompom were already at the gate with the archaic water- 
wagon, the former pushing from behind and the latter in the 
shafts. The guardian of the cour walked up and opened the 
gate for them, after ascertaining that another planton was 
waiting at the corner of the building to escort them on their 
mission. A little way from the cour, the stone wall <'^ which 


Le Nouveau 791 

formed one of its boundaries and which ran parallel to the 
other stone wall dividing the two cours) met the prison build- 
ing; and here was a huge double-door, twice padlocked, 
through which the water-seekers passed on to the street. There 
was a sort of hydrant up the street a few hundred yards, I 
was told. The cook (Benjamin F. that is) required from 
three to six wagon fuls of water twice a day, and in reward for 
the labour involved in its capture was in the habit of giving a 
cup of coffee to the captors. I resolved that I would seek 
water at the earliest opportunity. 

Harree and Pompom had completed their third and final trip 
and returned from the kitchen, smacking their lips and wiping 
their mouths with the backs of their hands. I was gazing 
airly into the muddy sky, when a roar issued from the door- 

''Monter les hommesi" or "Send the men up!" 

It was the beefy-necked. We filed from the cour, through 
the door, past a little window which I was told belonged to the 
kitchen, down the clammy corridor, up the three flights of 
stairs, to the door of The Enormous Room. Padlocks were 
unlocked, chains rattled, and the door thrown open. We 
entered. The Enormous Room received us in silence. The 
door was slammed and locked behind us by the planton, whom 
we could hear descending the gnarled and filthy stairs. 

In the course of a half -hour, which times, as I was informed, 
intervened between the just-ended morning promenade and 
the noon meal which was the next thing on the program, I 
gleaned considerable information concerning the daily sched- 
ule of La Ferte. A typical day was divided by planton-cries 
as follows: 

"Cafe" "Corvee d'eau" "Nettoyage de Chamhre" "Monter 
les Hommes" "A la soupe les hommes" 

The most terrible cry of all, and which was not included in 
the regular program of planton-cries, consisted of the words: 

"Aux douches les hommes" — ^when all, sick dead and dying 
not excepted, descended to the baths. Although les douches 
came only once in 15 days, such was the terror they inspired 

8o The Enormous Room 

that it was necessary for the planton to hunt under mattresses 
for people who would have preferred death itself. 

Upon remarking that corvee d'eaii must be excessively 
disagreeable, I was informed that it had its bright side, viz., 
that in going to and from the sewer one could easily exchange 
a furtive signal with the women who always took pains to 
be at their windows at that moment. Influenced perhaps by 
this, Harree and Pompom were in the habit of doing their 
friend's corvees for a consideration. The girls, I was further 
instructed, had their corvee (as well as their meals) just after 
the men; and the miraculous stupidity of the plantons had 
been known to result in the coincidence of the two. 

At this point somebody asked me how I had enjoyed my 
shower ? 

I was replying in terms of unmeasured opprobrium when 
I was interrupted by that gruesome clanking and rattling which 
announced the opening of the door. A moment later it was 
thrown wide, and the beefy-neck stood in the doorway, a huge 
bunch of keys in his paw, and shouted: 
^'A la soupe les hommes." 
/^^ The cry was lost in a tremendous confusion, a reckless 
-j thither-and-hithering of humanity, everyone trying to be at 
the door, spoon in hand, before his neighbor. B. said calmly, 
' extracting his own spoon from beneath his mattress on which 
we were seated : "They'll give you yours downstairs and when 
you get it you want to hide it or it'll be pinched" — and in 
j company with Monsieur Bragard, who had refused the morn- 
i ing promenade, and whose gentility would not permit him to 
! hurry when it was a question of such a low craving as hunger, 
we joined the dancing roaring throng at the door. I was not 
* too famished myself to be unimpressed by the instantaneous 
I change which had come over The Enormous Room's occu- 
pants. Never did Circe herself cast upon men so bestial an 
enchantment. Among these faces convulsed with utter animal- 
ism I scarcely recognized my various acquaintances. The 
transformation produced by the planton' s shout was not merely 
amazing; it was uncanny, and not a little thrilling. These 


Lc Nouveau 8i 

eyes bubbling with lust, obscene grins sprouting from con- 
torted lips, bodies unclenching and clenching in unctuous ges- 
tures of complete savagery, convinced me by a certain insane 
beauty. Before the arbiter of their destinies some thirty crea- 
tures, hideous and authentic, poised, cohering in a sole chaos of 
desire ; a fluent and numerous cluster of vital inhumanity. As I 
contemplated this ferocious and uncouth miracle, this beautiful 
manifestation of the sinister alchemy of hunger, I felt that the 
last vestige of individualism was about utterly to disappear, 
wholly abolished in a gamboling and wallowing throb. 

The beefy-neck bellowed: 

"Are you all here ?" 
/ A shrill roar of language answered. He looked contemptu- 
ously around him, upon the thirty clamoring faces each of 
which wanted to eat him— puttees, revolver and all. Then he 
cried : 

''Allez, descendez," 

Squirming, jostling, fighting, roaring, we poured slowly 
through the doorway. Ridiculously. Horribly. I felt like 
a_glorious microbe in huge absurd din irrevocably swathed. 
B. was beside me. A little ahead Monsieur Auguste's voice 
protested. Count Bragard brought up the rear. 

When we reached the corridor nearly all the breath was 
knocked out of me. The corridor being wider than the stairs 
allowed me to inhale and look around. B. was yelling in 
my ear: 

"Look at the Hollanders and the Belgians ! They're always 
ahead when it comes to food !" 

Sure enough : John the Bathman, Harree and Pompom were 
leading this extraordinary procession. Fritz was right behind 
them, however, and pressing the leaders hard. I heard 
Monsieur Auguste crying in his child's voice : 

"If every-body goes slow-er we will ar-rive soon-er. You 
mustn't act like that !" 

Then suddenly the roar ceased. The melee integrated. We 
were marching in orderly ranks. B. said: 

"The Surveillantl" 

§2 The Enormous Room 

At the end of the corridor, opposite the kitchen window, 
there was a flight of stairs. On the third stair from the bot- 
tom stood (teetering a little slowly back and forth, his lean 
hands joined behind him and twitching regularly, a kepi tilted 
forward on his cadaverous head so that its visor almost hid 
the weak eyes sunkenly peering from under droopy eyebrows, 
his pompous rooster-like body immaculately attired in a shiny 
uniform, his puttees sleeked, his cross polished) — The Fencer. 
There was a renovated look about him which made me laugh. 
Also his pose was ludicrously suggestive of Napoleon review- 
ing the armies of France. 

Our columns first rank moved by him. I expected it to 
continue ahead through the door and into the open air, as I 
had myself done in going from les douches to le cour; but it 
turned a sharp right and then sharp left, and I perceived a 
short hall, almost hidden by the stairs. In a moment I had 
passed the Fencer myself and entered the hall. In another 
moment I was in a room, pretty nearly square, filled with rows 
of pillars. On turning into the hall the column had come 
almost to a standstill. I saw that the reason for this slowing- 
down lay in the fact that on entering the room every man in 
turn passed a table and received a piece of bread from the chef. 
When B. and I came opposite the table the dispenser of bread 
smiled pleasantly and nodded to B., then selected a large hunk 
and pushed it rapidly into B.'s hands with an air of doing 
something which he shouldn't. B. introduced me, whereupon 
the smile and selection was repeated. 

"He thinks I'm a German," B. explained in a whisper, "and 
that you are a German too." Then aloud, to the cook: "My 
friend here needs a spoon. He just got here this morning and 
they haven't given him one." 

The excellent person at the bread table hereupon said to 
me : "You shall go to the window and say I tell you to ask for 
spoon and you will catch one spoon" — and I broke through 
the waiting line, approached the kitchen-window, and demanded 
of a roguish face within: 

"A spoon, please." 


Le Nouveau 83 

The roguish face, which had been singing in a high faint 
voice to itself, replied critically but not unkindly: 

"You're a new one?" 

I said that I was, that I had arrived late last night. 

It disappeared, reappeared, and handed me a tin spoon and 
cup, saying : 

"You haven't a cup?"— "No" I said. 

"Here. Take this. Quick." Nodding in the direction of 
the Surveillant, who was standing all this time on the stairs 
behind me. 

I had expected from the cook's phrase that something would 
be thrown at me which I should have to catch, and was accord- 
ingly somewhat relieved at the true state of affairs. On re- 
entering the salle a manger I was greeted by many cries and 
wavings, and looking in their direction perceived everybody 
uproariously seated at wooden benches which were placed on 
either side of an enormous wooden table. There was a tiny 
gap in one bench where a place had been saved for me by B., 
with the assistance of Monsieur Auguste, Count Bragard, 
Harree and several other fellow-convicts. In a moment I had 
straddled the bench and was occupying the gap, spoon and 
cup in hand, and ready for anything. 

The din was perfectly terrific. It had a minutely large 
quality. Here and there, in a kind of sonal darkness, solid 
sincere unintelligible absurd wisps of profanity heavily flick- 
ered. Optically the phenomenon w|as equally remarkable: 
seated waggingly swaying corpselike figures, swaggering, 
pounding with their little spoons, roaring hoarse unkempt. 
Evidently Monsieur le Surveillant had been forgotten. 
All at once the roar bulged unbearably. The roguish man, 
followed by the chef himself, entered with a suflfering waddle, 
each of them bearing a huge bowl of steaming something. 
At least six people immediately rose, gesturing and imploring : 
"Ici" — ''Mais non, icV' — ''Mettez par ki" — 

The bearers plumped their burdens carefully down, one at 
the head of the table and one in the middle. The men opposite 
the bowls stood up. Every man seized the empty plate in 

84 The Enormous Room 

front of him and shoved it into his neighbor's hand; the 
plates moved toward the bowls, were filled amid uncouth pro- 
testations and accusations — ''Mettez plus que ga" — "Cest pas 
juste, alors" — ^^Donnez-moi encore de pommes'^ — ''Nom de 
Dieu, il n*y a pas asses" — "Cochon, qu'est-ce qu'il veutf" — 
"Shut up" — Gott-fer-dummer" — and returned one by one. As 
each man received his own, he fell upon it with a sudden guzzle. 

Eventually, in front of me, solemnly sat a faintly-smoking 
urine-coloured circular broth, in which soggily hung half -sus- 
pended slabs of raw potato. Following the example of my 
neighbors, I too addressed myself to La Soupe. I found her 
luke-warm, completely flavourless. I examined the hunk of 
bread. It was almost bluish in colour; in taste mouldy, 
slightly sour. "If you crumb some into the soup," remarked 
B., who had been studying my reactions from the corner of 
his eye, "they both taste better." I tried the experiment. It 
was a complete success. At least one felt as if one were get- 
ting nourishment. Between gulps I smelled the bread furtively. 
It smelled rather much like an old attic in which kites and- 
other toys gradually are forgotten in a gentle darkness. I 

B. and I were finishing our soup together when behind and 
somewhat to the left there came the noise of a lock being 
manipulated. I turned and saw in one corner of the salle a 
manger a little door, shaking mysteriously. Finally it was 
thrown open, revealing a sort of minute bar and a little closet 
filled with what appeared to be groceries and tobacco; and 
behind the bar, standing in the closet, a husky competent- 
looking lady. "It's the canteen," B. said. We rose, spoon in 
hand and breadhunk stuck on spoon, and made our way to 
the lady. I had, naturally, no money; but B. reassured me 
that before the day was over I should see the Gestionnaire 
and make arrangements for drawing on the supply of ready 
cash which the gendarmes who took me from Gre had confided 
to The Surveillant's care; eventually I could also draw on 
my account with Norton-Harjes in Paris; meantime he had 
quelques sous which might well go into chocolat and cigarettes. 
The large lady had a pleasant quietness about her, a sort of 

Le Nouveau 85 

simplicity, which made me extremely desirous of complying 
with B's suggestion. Incidentally I was feeling somewhat un- 
certain in the region of the stomach, due to the unique quality 
of the lunch which I had just enjoyed, and I brightened at 
the thought of anything as solid as chocolat. Accordingly we 
purchased (or rather B. did) a paquet jaune and a cake of 
something which was not Meunier, And the remaining sous 
we squandered on a glass apiece of red acrid pinard, gravely 
and with great happiness pledging the hostess of the occasion 
and then each other. 

With the exception of ourselves hardly anyone patronized 
the canteen, noting which I felt somewhat conspicuous. When, 
however, Harree Pompom and John the Bathman came rush- 
ing up and demanded cigarettes my fears were dispelled. 
Moreover the pinard was excellent. 

"Come on ! Arrange yourselves !" the bull-neck cried hoarse- 
ly as the five of us were lighting up; and we joined the line 
of fellow-prisoners with their breads and spoons, gaping, 
belching, trumpeting fraternally, by the doorway. 

"Tout le monde en hautT this planton roared. 

Slowly we filed through the tiny hall, past the stairs (empty 
now of their Napoleonic burden), down the corridor, up the 
creaking gnarled damp flights, and (after the inevitable pause 
in which the escort rattled chains and locks) into The Enor- 

This would be about ten thirty. 

Just what I tasted, did, smelled, saw, and heard, not to 
mention touched, between ten thirty and the completion of the 
evening meal (otherwise the four o'clock soup) I am quite at a 
loss to say. Whether it was that glass of pinard (plus, or rather 
times, the astonishing exhaustion bequeathed me by my jour- 
ney of the day before) which caused me to enter temporarily 
the gates of forget fulness, or whether the sheer excitement at- 
tendant upon my ultra-novel surroundings proved too much 
for an indispensable part of my so-called mind — I do not in 
the least know. I am fairly certain that I went on afternoon 
promenade. After which I must surely have mounted to await 

86 The Enormous Room 

my supper in the Enormous Room. Whence (after the due 
and proper interval) I doubtless descended to the clutches of 
La Soupe Extraordinaire . . . yes, for I perfectly recall the 
cry which made me suddenly to reenter the dimension of dis- 
tinctness . . . and by Jove I had just finished a glass of pinard 
. . . somebody must have treated me ... we were standing 
together, spoon in hand . . . when we heard — 

''A la promenade" ... we issued en queue, firmly grasping 
our spoons and bread, through the dining-room door. Turn- 
ing right we were emitted, by the door opposite the kitchen, 
from the building itself into the open air. A few steps and we 
passed through the little gate in the barbed wire fence of the 

Greatly refreshed by my second introduction to the canteen, 
and with the digestion of the somewhat extraordinary eve- 
ning meal apparently assured, I gazed almost intelligently 
around me. Count Bragard had declined the evening prome- 
nade in favor of The Enormous Room, but I perceived in the 
crowd the now familiar faces of the three Hollanders — ^John 
Harree and Pompom — ^likewise of The Bear, Monsieur 
Auguste, and Fritz. In the course of the next hour I had 
become, if not personally, at least optically acquainted with 
nearly a dozen others. 

Somewhat overawed by the animals Harree and Pompom 
(but nevertheless managing to overawe a goodly portion of 
his fellow-captives) an extraordinary human being paced the 
cour. On gazing for the first time directly at him I experi- 
enced a feeling of nausea. A figure inclined to corpulence, 
dressed with care, remarkable only above the neck — and then 
what a head! It was large, and had a copious mop of limp 
hair combed back from the high forehead — hair of a dis- 
agreeable blond tint, dutch-cut behind, falling over the pink- 
ish soft neck almost to the shoulders. In this pianist's or 
artist's hair, which shook en masse when the owner walked, 
two large and outstanding and altogether brutal white ears 
tried to hide themselves. The face, a cross between classic 
Greek and Jew, had a Reynard expression, something dis- 


Le Nouveau 87 

tinctly wily and perfectly disagreeable. An equally with the 
hair blond mustache — or rather mustachios projectingly im- 
portant — waved beneath the prominent nostrils, and served to 
partially conceal the pallid mouth, weak and large, whose lips 
assumed from time to time a smile which had something" almost 
foetal about it. Over the even weaker chin was disposed a 
blond goatee. The cheeks were fatty. The continually per- 
spiring forehead exhibited innumerable pinkish pock-marks. 
In conversing with a companion this being emitted a dis- 
gusting smoothness, his very gestures were oily like his skin. 
He wore a pair of bloated wristless hands, the knuckles lost 
in fat, with which he smoothed the air from time to time. He 
was speaking low and effortless French, completely absorbed in 
the developing ideas which issued fluently from his mustachios. 
About him there clung an aura of cringing. His hair whisker? 
and neck looked as if they were trick neck whiskers and hair, 
as if they might at any moment suddenly disintegrate, as if the 
smoothness of his eloquence alone kept them in place. 

We called him Judas. 

Beside him, clumsily keeping the pace but not the step, was a 
tallish effeminate person whose immaculate funereal suit hung 
loosely upon an aged and hurrying anatomy. He wore a black 
big cap on top of his haggard and remarkably clean-shaven 
face, the most prominent feature of which was a red nose, which 
sniffed a little now and then as if its owner was suffering from 
a severe cold. This person emanated age, neatness and despair. 
Aside from the nose which compelled immediate attention, 
his face consisted of a few large planes loosely juxtaposed and 
registering pathos. His motions were without grace. He had 
a certain refinement. He could not have been more than forty- 
five. There was worry on every inch of him. Possibly he 
thought that he might die. B. said "He's a Belgian, a friend 
of Count Bragard, and his name is Monsieur Pet-airs." From 
time to time Monsieur Pet-airs remarked something delicately 
and pettishly in a gentle and weak voice. His adam's-apple, at 
such moments, jumped about in a longish slack wrinkled 
skinny neck which was like the neck of a turkey. To this 

88 The Enormous Room 

turkey the approach of Thanksgiving inspired dread. From 
time to time M. Pet-airs looked about him sidewise as if he 
expected to see a hatchet. His hands were claws, kind, awk- 
ward and nervous. They twitched. The bony and wrinkled 
things looked as if they would like to close quickly upon a 

B. called my attention to a figure squatting in the middle 
of the cour with his broad back against one of the more miser- 
able trees. This figure was clothed in a remarkably picturesque 
manner : it wore a dark sombrero-like hat with a large droop- 
ing brim, a bright red gipsy shirt of some remarkably fine mate- 
rial with huge sleeves loosely falling, and baggy corduroy 
trousers whence escaped two brown, shapely, naked feet. On 
moving a little I discovered a face — ^perhaps the handsomest 
face that I have ever seen, of a gold brown color, framed in 
an amazingly large and beautiful black beard. The features 
were finely formed and almost fluent, the eyes soft and extra- 
ordinarily sensitive, the mouth delicate and firm beneath a 
black mustache which fused with the silky and wonderful 
darkness falling upon the breast. The face contained a beauty 
and dignity which, as I first saw it, annihilated the surround- 
ing tumult without an effort. Around the carefully formed 
nostrils there was something almost of contempt. The cheeks 
had known suns of which I might not think. The feet had 
traveled nakedly in countries not easily imagined. Seated 
gravely in the mud and noise of the cour, under the pitiful and 
scraggly pommier . . . behind the eyes lived a world of com- 
plete strangeness and silence. The composure of the body 
was graceful and Jovelike. This being might have been a 
prophet come out of a country nearer to the sun. Perhaps a 
god who had lost his road and allowed himself to be taken 
prisoner by le gouvernement frangais. At least a prince of a dark 
and desirable country, a king over a gold-skinned people who 
would return when he wished to his fountains and his houris. 
I learned upon inquiry that he travelled in various countries 
with a horse and cart and his wife and children, selling bright 
colors to the women and men of these countries. As it 


Le Nouveau 89 

turned out, he was one of The Delectable Mountains ; to dis- 
cover which I had come a long and difficult way. Wherefore 
I shall tell you no more about him for the present, except that 
his name was Joseph Demestre. 

We called him The Wanderer. 

I was still wondering at my good luck in occupying the same 
miserable yard with this exquisite personage when a hoarse 
rather thick voice shouted from the gate: ''Uamericain!'^ 

It was a planton, in fact the chief planton for whom all 
ordinary plantons had unutterable respect and whom all mere 
men unutterably hated. It was the planton into whom I had 
had the distinguished honour of bumping shortly after my 
visit to le badn. 

The Hollanders and Fritz were at the gate in a mob, all 
shouting "Which" in four languages. 

This planton did not deign to notice them. He repeated 
roughly "Uamericain" Then, yielding a point to their 
frenzied entreaties: *'Le nouveau." 

B. said to me "Probably he's going to take you to the Ges- 
tionnaire. You're supposed to see him when you arrive. He's 
got your money and will keep it for you, and give you an al- 
lowance twice a week. You can't draw more than 20 francs. 
I'll hold your bread and spoon." 

"Where the devil is the American?" cried the planton. 

"Here I am." 

"Follow me." 

I followed his back and rump and holster through the little 
gate in the barbed wire fence and into the building, at which 
point he commanded "Proceed." 

I asked "Where?" 

"Straight ahead" he said angrily. 

I proceeded. "Left!" he cried. I turned. A door con- 
fronted me. "Entrez," he commanded. I did. An unremark- 
able looking gentleman in a French uniform, sitting at a sort 
of table. "Monsieur le medecin, le nouveau." The doctor got 
up. "Open your shirt." I did. "Take down your pants." I 
did. "All right." Then, as the planton was about to escort 

90 The Enormous Room 

me from the room : "English ?" he asked with curiosity. "No" 
I said, "American." ''Vraiment" — he contemplated me with 
attention. "South American are you?" "United States" I ex- 
plained. ''Vraiment" — he looked curiously at me, not dis- 
agreeably in the least. "Pourquoi vous etes ici?" "I don't 
know" I said smiling pleasantly, "except that my friend wrote 
some letters which were intercepted by the French censor." 
"Ah," he remarked. ''Cest tout/' 

And I departed. "Proceed 1" cried the Black Holster. I re- 
traced my steps, and was about to exit through the door lead- 
ing to the cour, when "Stop 1 Nom de Dieu ! Proceed 1" 

I asked "Where?'' completely bewildered. 

"Up," he said angrily. 

I turned to the stairs on the left, and climbed. 

"Not so fast there," he roared behind me. 

I slowed up. We reached the landing. I was sure that the 
Gestionnaire was a very fierce man — probably a lean slight 
person who would rush at me from the nearest door saying 
"Hands up" in French, whatever that may be. The door op- 
posite me stood open. I looked in. There was the Surveillant 
standing, hands behind back, approvingly regarding my 
progress. I was asking myself. Should I bow? when a scurry- 
ing and a tittering made me look left, along a dark and par- 
ticularly dirty hall. Women's voices ... I almost fell with 
surprise. W^ere not these shadows faces peering a little boldly 
at me from doors? How many girls were there — it sounded 
as if there were a hundred — 

^'Qu'es-ce que vous faites" etc., and the plant on gave me a 
good shove in the direction of another flight of stairs. I oblig- 
ingly ascended ; thinking of the Surveillant as a spider, elegant- 
ly poised in the centre of his n efarious web, waiting for a fly 
to make too many struggles. . . . 

At the top of this flight I was confronted by a second hall. 
A shut door indicated the existence of a being directly over the 
Surveillant's holy head. Upon this door, lest I should lose 
time in speculating, was in ample letters inscribed: 


Le Nouveau 91 


I felt unutterably lost. I approached the door. I even 
started to push it. 

''Attends, Nom de Dieu." The plant on gave me another 
shove,^ faced the door, knocked twice, and cried in accents of 
profound respect : "Monsieur le Gestionnaire" — after which he 
gazed at me with really supreme contempt, his neat pig-like 
face becoming almost circular. 

I said to myself : This Gestionnaire, whoever he is, must be 
a very terrible person, a frightful person, a person utterly 
without mercy. 

From within a heavy, stupid, pleasant voice lazily remarked : 


The planton threw the door open, stood stiffly on the thresh- 
hold, and gave me the look which plantons give to eggs when 
plantons are a little hungry. 

I crossed the threshold, trembling with (let us hope) anger. 

Before me, seated at a table, was a very fat personage with 
a black skull cap perched upon its head. Its face was pos- 
sessed of an enormous nose, on which pince-nez precariously 
roosted; otherwise the face was large, whiskered, very Ger- 
man and had three chins. Extraordinary creature. Its belly, 
as it sat, was slightly dented by the table-top, on which table- 
top rested several enormous tomes similar to those employed 
by the recording angel on the Day of Judgment, an inkstand 
or two, innumerable pens and pencils, and some positively 
fatal looking papers. The person was dressed in worthy and 
semi-dismal clothes amply cut to afford a promenade for the 
big stomach. The coat was of that extremely thin black mate- 
rial which occasionally is affected by clerks and dentists and 
more often by librarians. If ever I looked upon an honest 
German jowl, or even upon a caricature thereof, I looked upon 
one now. Such a round fat red pleasant beer-drinking face as 
reminded me only and immediately of huge meerschaum pipes, 
Deutsche Verein mottos, sudsy seidels of Wurtzburger, and 
Jacob Wirth's (once upon a time) brachwurst. Such pin- 
like pink merry eyes as made me think of Kris Kringle him- 

92 The Enormous Room 

(self. Such extraordinarily huge reddish hands as might have 
grasped six seidels together in the Deutsche Kiichen on 13th 
street. I gasped with pleasurable relief. 

Monsieur le Gestionnaire looked as if he was trying very 
hard, with the aid of his beribboned glasses and librarian's 
jacket (not to mention a very ponderous gold watch-chain and 
locket that were supported by his copious equator) to appear 
possessed of the solemnity necessarily emanating from his lofty 
and responsible office. This solemnity, however, met its Water- 
loo in his frank and stupid eyes, not to say his trilogy of cheer- 
ful chins — so much so that I felt like crying "Wie gehts !" and 
cracking him on his huge back. Such an animal ! A contented 
animal, a bulbous animal; the only living hippopotamus in 
captivity, fresh from the Nile. 

He contemplated me with a natural, under the circumstances, 
curiosity. He even naively contemplated me. As if I were hay. 
My hay-colored head perhaps pleased him, as a hippopotamus. 
He would perhaps eat me. He grunted, exposing tobacco- 
yellow tusks, and his tiny eyes twittered. Finally he gradually 
uttered, with a thick accent, the following extremely impres- 
sive dictum: 

"C'est Vamericain" 

I felt much pleased, and said "Oui, j'siiis americain^ 

He rolled half over backwards in his creaking chair with 
wonderment at such an unexpected retort. He studied my 
face with a puzzled air, appearing slightly embarrassed that 
before him should stand Vamericain and that Vamericain should 
admit it, and that it should all be so wonderfully clear. I saw 
a second dictum, even more profound than the first, ascend- 
ing from his black vest. The chain and fob trembled with an- 
ticipation. I was wholly fascinated. What vast blob of wis- 
dom would find its difficult way out of him? The bulbous lips 
wiggled in a pleasant smile. 
y*'Voo parlez frangais." 

[This was delightful.' The planton behind me was obviously 
angered by the congenial demeanor of Monsieur le Gestion- 


Le Nouveau 93 

naire, and rasped with his boot upon the threshold. The 
maps to my right and left, maps of France, maps of the Med- 
iterranean, of Europe, even, were abashed. A httle anaemic 
and humble biped whom I had not previously noted, as he stood 
in one corner with a painfully deferential expression, looked 
all at once relieved. I guessed, and correctly guessed, that this 
little thing was the translator of La Ferte. His weak face 
wore glasses of the same type as the hippopotamus', but with- 
out a huge black ribbon. I decided to give him a tremor ; and 
said to the hippo ''Un peu, Monsieur,'' at which the little thing 
looked sickly. 

The hippopotamus benevolently remarked "Voo paries bien/' 
and his glasses fell off. He turned to the watchful planton: 

''Voo pooves aller. le vooz appelerai." 

The watchful planton did a sort of salute and closed the 
door after him. The skuUcapped dignitary turned to his papers 
and began mouthing them with his huge hands, grunting pleas- 
antly. Finally he found one, and said lazily. 

*'De quelle endroit que vooz etesf" 

"De Massachusetts" said I. 

He wheeled round and stared dumbly at the weak faced 
one, who looked at a complete loss, but managed to stammer 
simperingly that it was a part of the United States. 

"UH." The hippopotamus said. 

Then he remarked that I had been arrested, and I agreed 
that I had been arrested. 

Then he said "Have you got any money?" and before I 
could answer clambered heavily to his feet and, leaning over 
the table before which I stood, punched me gently. / 

"Uh." Said the hippopotamus, sat down, and put on his 

"I have your money here," he said. "You are allowed to 
draw a little from time to time. You may draw 20 francs, if 
you like. You may draw it twice a week." 

"I should like to draw 20 francs now" I said, "in order to 
buy something at the canteen." 

"You will give me a receipt," said the hippopotamus. "You 

94 The Enormous Room 

want to draw 20 francs now, quite so." He began, puffing and 
grunting, to make handwriting of a peculiarly large and some- 
what loose variety. 

The weak face now stepped forward, and asked me gently : 
*'Hugh er a merry can?" — so I carried on a brilliant conversa- 
tion in pidgeon English about my relatives and America until 
interrupted by 


The hip had finished. 

"Sign your name, here," he said, and I did. He looked about 
in one of the tomes and checked something opposite my name, 
which I enjoyed seeing in the list of inmates. It had been 
spelled, erased, and re-spelled several times. 

Monsieur le Gestionnaire contemplated my signature. Then 
he looked up, smiled, and nodded recognition to someone be- 
hind me. I turned. There stood (having long since noise- 
lessly entered) The Fencer Himself, nervously clasping and 
unclasping his hands behind his back and regarding me with 
approval, or as a keeper regards some rare monkey newly for- 
warded from its habitat by Hagenbeck. 

The hippo pulled out a drawer. He found, after hunting, 
some notes. He counted two off, licking his big thumb with a 
pompus gesture, and having recounted them passed them 
heavily to me. I took them as a monkey takes a cocoanut. 

**Do you wish?" — the Gestionnaire nodded toward me, ad- 
dressing the Fencer. 

"No, no" the Fencer said bowingly. *T have talked to him 

"Call that planton!" cried Monsieur le Gestionnaire, to the 
little thing. The little thing ran out dutifully and called in a 
weak voice "Plant on!" 

A gruff but respectful "Oui" boomed from below-stairs. In 
a moment the planton of plantons had respectfully entered. 

"The promenade being over, you can take him to the men's 
room," said the Surveillant, as the hippo (immensely relieved 
and rather proud of himself) collapsed in his creaking chair. 

Feeling like a suit-case in the clutches of a porter, I obedi- 


Le Nouveau 95 

ently preceded my escort down two flights, first having bowed 
to the hippopotamus and said "Merci'' — to which courtesy the 
Hippo paid no attention. As we went along the dar k hall on 
the ground floor, I regretted that no whispers and titters had 
greeted my descent. Probably the furious planton had seen 
to it that les femmes kept their rooms in silence. We ascended 
the three flights at the farther end of the corridor, the planton 
of all plant ons unlocked and unbolted the door at the top land- 
ing, and I was swallowed by The Enormous Room. 

I made for B., in my excitement allowing myself to wave the 
bank-notes. Instantly a host had gathered at my side. On my 
way to my bed — a distance of perhaps thirty feet — I was patted 
on the back by Harree Pompom and Bathhouse John, con- 
gratulated by Monsieur Auguste, and saluted by Fritz. Ar- 
riving, I found myself the centre of a stupendous crowd. 
People who had previously had nothing to say to me, who had 
even sneered at my unwashed and unshaven exterior, now ad- 
dressed me in terms of more than polite interest. Judas him- 
self stopped in a promenade of the room^ eyed me a moment, 
hastened smoothly to my vicinity, and made a few oily re- 
marks of a pleasant nature. Simultaneously by Monsieur 
Auguste Harree and Fritz I was advised to hide my money 
and hide it well. There were people, you know . . . who didn't 
hesitate, you understand. ... I understood, and to the vast 
disappointment of the clamorous majority reduced my wealth 
to its lowest terms and crammed it in my trousers, stuffing sev- 
eral trifles of a bulky nature on top of it. Then I gazed quietly 
around with a William S. Hart expression calculated to allay 
any undue excitement. One by one the curious and enthusi- 
astic faded from me, and I was left with the few whom I 
already considered my friends ; with which few B. and myself 
proceeded to wile away the time remaining before Lumieres 

Incidentally, I exchanged (in the course of the next two 
hours) a considerable mass of two legged beings for a num- 
ber of extremely interesting individuals. Also, in that some- 
what limited period of time, I gained all sorts of highly en- 

96 The Enormous Room 

lightening information concerning the lives, habits and likes 
of half a dozen of as fine companions as it has ever been my 
luck to meet or, so far as I can now imagine, ever will be. In 
prison one learns several million things — if one is Vamericain 
from Mass-a-chu-setts. When the ominous and awe-inspiring 
rattle on the further side of the locked door announced that 
the captors were come to bid the captives good night, I was 
still in the midst of conversation and had been around the 
world a number of times. At the clanking sound our little 
circle centripetally disintegrated, as if by sheer magic; and I 
was left somewhat dizzily to face a renewal of reality. 

The door shot wide. The planton's almost indistinguishable 
figure in the doorway told me that the entire room was dark. 
I had not noticed the darkness. Somebody had placed a candle 
(which I recalled having seen on a table in the middle of the 
room when I looked up once or twice during the conversation) 
on a little shelf hard by the cabinet. There had been men play- 
ing at cards by this candle — now everybody was quietly repos- 
ing upon the floor along three sides of The Enormous Room. 
The planton entered. Walked over to the light. Said some- 
thing about everybody being present, and was answered by a 
number of voices in a more or less profane affirmative. Strutted 
to and fro, kicked the cabinet, flashed an electric torch, and 
walked up the room examining each paillasse to make sure it 
had an occupant. Crossed the room at the upper end. Started 
down on my side. The white circle Was in my eyes. The 
planton stopped. I stared stupidly and wearily into the glare. 
The light moved all over me and my bed. The rough voice 
behind the glare said : 

"Vous etes le nouveauf" 

Monsieur Auguste, from my left, said quietly: 

"Out, c'est le noiiveau." 

The holder of the torch grunted, and (after pausing a sec- 
ond at B.'s bed to inspect a picture of perfect innocence) 
banged out through the door, which whanged to behind him 
and another planton of whose presence I had been hitherto un- 
aware. A perfect symphony of "Bonne nuits" "Dormer biens" 


Le Nouveau 97 

and other affectionate admonitions greeted the exeunt of the 
authorities. They were advised by various parts of the room 
in divers tongues to dream of their wives, to be careful of 
themselves in bed, to avoid catching cold, and to attend to a 
number of personal wants before retiring. The symphony 
gradually collapsed, leaving me sitting in a state of complete 
wonderment, dead tired and very happy, upon my paillasse. 

*T think I'll turn in" I said to the neighboring darkness. 

*'That's what I'm doing" B/s voice said. 

"By God" I said, "this is the finest place I've ever been 
in my life." 

"It's the finest place in the world" said B.'s voice. 

"Thank Heaven, we're out of A.'s way and the — ^—Section 
Sanitaire'* I grunted as I placed my boots where a pillow 
might have been imagined. 

"Amen" B.'s voice said. 

"If you put your shoes un-der your mat-tress" Monsieur 
Auguste's voice said, "you'll sleep well.'* 

I thanked him for the suggestion, and did so. I reclined 
in an ecstasy of happiness and weariness. There could be 
nothing betterth^jl^lhi^^^^^To ^eep. 

"Got' a gottverdummer cigarette?" Harree's voice asked of 

"No bloody fear," Fritz's voice replied coolly. 

Snores had already begun in various keys at various dis- 
tances in various directions. The candle flickered a little; as 
if darkness and itself were struggling to the death, and dark- 
ness were winning. 

"I'll get a chew from John" H^arree's voice said. 

Three or four paillasses away, a subdued conversation was 
proceeding. I found myself listening sleepily. 

*'Et puis" a voice said, "yV suis re forme. ..." 



With the reader's permission I beg, at this point of my 
narrative, to indulge in one or twC) extrinsic observations. 

In the preceding pages I have described my Pilgrim's Prog- 
ress from the Slough of Despond, commonly known as Section 
Sanitaire Vingt-et-Un (then located at Germaine) through 
the mysteries of Noyon, Gre and Paris to the Porte de Triage 
de La Ferte Mace, Orne. With the end of my first day as a 
certified inhabitant of the latter institution a definite progres- 
sion is brought to a close. Beginning with my second day at 
La Ferte a new period opens. This period extends to the 
moment of my departure and includes the discovery of The 
Delectable Mountains, two of which — The Wanderer and I 
shall not say the other — have already been sighted. It is like 
a vast grey box in which are laid helter-skelter a great many 
toys, each of which is itself completely significant apart from 
the always unchanging temporal dimension which merely con- 
tains it along with the rest. I make this point clear for the 
benefit of any of my readers who have not had the distinguished 
privilege of being in jail. To those who have been in jail 
my meaning is at once apparent ; particularly if they have had 
the highly enlightening experience of being in jail with a per- 
fectly indefinite sentence. How, in such a case, could events 
occur and be remembered otherwise than as individualities dis- 
tinct from Time Itself? Or, since one day and the next are 
the same to such a prisoner, where does Time come In at all? 
Obviously, once the prisoner is habituated to his environment, 
once he accepts the fact that speculation as to when he will 



A Group of Portraits 99 

regain his liberty cannot possibly shorten the hours of his 
incarceration and may very well drive him into a state of un- 
happiness (not to say morbidity), events can no longer suc- 
ceed each other : whatever happens, while it may happen in 
connection with some other perfectly distinct happenings, does 
not happen in a scale of temporal priorities — each happening 
is self-sufficient, irrespective of minutes, months and the other 
treasures of freedom. 

It is for this reason that I do not purpose to inflict upon 
the reader a diary of my alternative aliveness and non-exist- 
ence at La Ferte — ^not because such a diary would unutterably 
bore him, but because the diary or time method is a technique 
which cannot possibly do justice to timelessness. I shall (on 
the contrary) lift from their grey box at random certain (to 
me) more or less astonishing toys; which may or may not 
please the reader, but whose colours and shapes and textures 
are a part of that actual Present- — without future and past — 
whereof they alone are cognizant who — so to speak — have sub- 
mitted to an amputation of the world. 

I have already stated that La Ferte was a Porte de Triage — 
that is to say, a place where suspects of all varieties were 
herded by le gouvernement frangais preparatory to their being 
judged as to their guilt by a Commission. If the Commission 
found that they were wicked persons or dangerous persons., 
or undesirable persons, or puzzling persons, or persons in 
some way insusceptible of analysis, they were sent from La 
Ferte to a "regular" prison, called Precigne, in the province of 
Sarthe. About Precigne the most awful rumors were spread. 
It was whispered that it had a huge moat about it, with an 
infinity of barbed wire fences thirty-feet high, and lights 
trained on the walls all night to discourage the escape of pris- 
oners. Once in Precigne you were "in" for good and all, pour 
la duree de la guerre, which duree was a subject of occasional 
and dismal speculation — occasional for reasons, as I have 
mentioned, of mental health; dismal for unreasons of diet, 
privation, filth, and other trifles. La Ferte was, then, a step- 
ping stone either to freedom or to Precigne. But the excellent 


lOO The Enormous Room 

and inimitable and altogether J bg niffmnj- French government 
was not satisfied with its owtigenerosity in presenting one 
merely with Precigne — beyond that lurked a caiichemar called 
by the singularly poetic name: Isle de Groix. A man who 
went to Isle de Groix was done. 

As the Surveillant said to us all, leaning out of a littllsh 
window, and to me personally upon occasion — 

"You are not prisoners. Oh, no. No indeed. I should say 
not. Prisoners are not treated like this. You are lucky.*' 
V J ha.d\de la chance all right, but that was something which 
the pauvre M. burveiUant wot altogether not of. As for my 
fellow-prisoners, I am sorry to say that he was — it seems to 
my humble personality^ — quite wrong. For who was eligible 
to la Ferte ? Anyone whom the police could find in the lovely 
country of France (a) who was not guilty of treason (b) 
who could not prove that he was not guilty of treason. JByi,_ 
treason I refer to any little annoying habits of independent 
thought or action which en temps de guerre are put in a hole^i 
and covered over, with the somewhat naive idea that from 
their cadavers violets will grow, whereof the perfume will | 
delight all good men and true and make such worthy citizens 
forget their sorrows. Fort Leavenworth, for instance, eman- 
ates even now a perfume which is utterly delightful to cer- 
tain Americans. Just how many La Fertes France boasted 
(and for all I know may still boast) God Himself knows. At 
least, in that Republic, amnesty has been proclaimed, or so I 
hear. — But to return to the Surveillant's remark. 

J'avais de la chance. Because I am by profession a painter 
and a writer. Whereas my very good friends, all of them 
deeply suspicious characters, most of them traitors, without 
exception lucky to have the use of their cervical vertebrae, etc., 
etc., could (with a few exceptions) write not a word and read 
not a word; neither could they faire la photographic as 
Monsieu Auguste chucklingly called it (at which I blushed 
with pleasure) : worst of all, the majority of these dark 
criminals who had been caught in nefarious plots against the 
honour of France were totally unable to speak French. Curious 

!A Group of Portraits loi 

thing. Often I pondered the unutterable and inextinguishable 
wisdom of the police, who — undeterred by facts which would 
have deceived less astute intelligences into thinking that these 
men were either too stupid or too simple to be connoisseurs 
of the art of betrayal — swooped upon their helpless prey with 
that indescribable courage which is the prerogative of police- 
men the world over, and bundled it into the La Fertes of that 
mighty nation upon some, at least, of whose public buildings 
it seems to me that I remember readin^pj 
■^Libertef) ^ 

Equalite. /^/^ 

Fraternite. • - - — ^J^ 

^^And I wondered that France should have a use for Monsieur ) 
Auguste, who had been arrested (because he was a Russian) 
when his fellow munition workers struck and whose wife 
wanted him in Paris because she was hungry and because their 
child was getting to look queer and white. Monsieur Auguste, 
that desperate ruffian exactly five feet tall who — ^when he 
could not keep from crying (one must think about one's wife 
or even one's child once or twice, I merely presume, if one 
loves them — ''et ma femme est tres gen-tille, elle est fran-gaise 
et tres belle, tres, tres belle, vrai-ment; elle n'est pas comme 
moi, un pet-it homme laide, ma femme est grande et belle, elle 
sait bien lire et e-crire, vrai-ment; et notre fils . . . vous dev-es 
voir notre pet-it fils. . . .'''') — used to start up and cry out, 
taking B. by one arm and me by the other, ^ 

''Allons, mes amis! Chan-tons 'Quackquackquackf 
Whereupon we would join in the following song, which 
Monsieur Auguste had taught us with great care, and whose 
renditions gave him unspeakable delight: 

'^Un canard, deploy ant ches elle yj ^ 

(Quackquackquack) ^^ 5 

// disait d sa canard fidele 

II disait {Quackquackquack) 
II fadsait (Quackquackquack) 
Quand" {spelling mine) 

{ Quackquackquack) 

102 The Enormous Room 

"finirons nos desseins. 





I suppose I will always puzzle over the ecstasies of That 
Wonderful Duck. And how Monsieur 'l^guste, the merest 
gnome of a man, would bend backwards in absolute laughter 
at this song's spirited conclusion upon a note so low as to wither 
us all. 

Then, too, the Schoolmaster. 

A little fragile old man. His trousers were terrifically too 
big for him. When he walked (in an insecure and frightened 
way) his trousers did the most preposterous wrinkles. If he 
leaned against a tree in the cour, with a very old and also 
fragile pipe in his pocket — the stem (which looked enormous 
in contrast to the owner) protruding therefrom — ^his three-sizes 
too big collar would leap out so as to make his wizened neck 
appear no thicker than the white necktie which flowed upon 
his two-sizes too big shirt. He always wore a coat which 
reached below his knees, which coat, with which knees, perhaps 
some one had once given him. It had huge shoulders which 
sprouted, like wings, on either side of his elbows when he sat 
in The Enormous Room quietly writing at a tiny three-legged 
table, a, very big pen walking away with his weak bony hand. 
His too big cap had a little button on top which looked like 
the head of a nail ; and suggested that this old doll had once 
lost its poor grey head and had been repaired by means of 
tacking its head upon its neck, where it should be and prop- 
erly belonged. Of what hideous crime was this being sus- 
pected? By some mistake he had three mustaches, two of 
them being eyebrows. He used to teach school in Alsace- 
Lorraine, and his sister is there. In speaking to you his kind 
face is peacefully reduced to triangles. And his tie buttons 
on every morning with a Bang! And off he goes; led about 


'A Group of Portraits 103 

by his celluloid collar, gently worried about himself, delicately 
worried about the world. At eating time he looks sidelong 
as he stuffs soup into stiff lips. There are two holes where 
cheeks might have been. Lessons hide in his wrinkles. Bells 
ding in the oldness of eyes. Did he, by any chance, tell the 
children that there are such monstrous things as peace and good 
will ... a corrupter of youth, no doubt ... he is altogether in- 
capable of anger, wholly timid and tintinabulous. And he had 
always wanted so much to know — if there were wild horses in 

Yes, probably the Schoolmaster was a notorous seditionist. 
The all-wise French government has its ways, which like the 
ways of God are wonderful. 

I had almost forgot The Bear — number two, not to be con- 
fused with the seeker of cigarette-ends. A big, shaggy person, 
a farmer, talked about '^mon petit jardin" an anarchist, wrote 
practically all the time (to the gentle annoyance of The School- 
master) at the queer-legged table; wrote letters (which he read 
aloud with evident satisfaction to himself) addressing "my 
confreres'' stimulating them to even greater efforts, telling 
them that the time was ripe, that the world consisted of 
brothers, etc. I liked The Bear. He had a sincerity which, if 
somewhat startlingly uncouth, was always definitely compelling. 
His French itself was both uncouth and startling. I hardly 
think he was a dangerous bear. Had I been the French gov- 
ernment I should have let him go berrying, as a bear must 
and should, to his heart's content. Perhaps I liked him best 
for his great awkward way of presenting an idea^ — he scooped 
it out of its environment wuth a hearty paw in a way which 
would have delighted any one save le gouvernement frangais. 
He had, I think, 

tattooed in blue and green on his big hairy chest. A fine bear. 
A bear whom no twitchings at his muzzle nor any starvation 
nor yet any beating could ever teach to dance . . . but then, I 
am partial to bears. Of course none of this bear's letters ever 

I04 The Enormous. Room 

got posted — Le Directeur was not that sort of person ; nor did 
this bear ever expect that they would go elsewhere than into 
the pfficial waste-basket of La Ferte, which means that he 
wrote because he liked to; which again means that he was es- 
sentially an artist — for which reason I liked him more than a 
little. He lumbered off one day — I hope to his brier-patch, and 
to his children, and to his confreres, and to all things excellent 
and livable and highly desirable to a ^ruin. 

The Young Russian and. The BarbeT^scaped while I wlas 
enjoying my little visit at Orne. The former was an im- 
mensely tall and very strong boy of nineteen or under; who 
had come to our society by way of solitary confinement, bread 
and water for months, and other reminders that to err is hu- 
man, etc. Unlike Harree, whom, if anything, he exceeded in 
strength, he was very quiet. Everyone let him alone. I 
"caught water" in the town with him several times and found 
him an excellent companion. He taught me the Russian num- 
erals up to ten, and was very kind to my struggles over 10 
and 9. He picked up the cannon-ball one day and threw it 
so hard that the wall separating the men's cour from the cour 
des femmes shook, and a piece of stone fell off. At which 
the cannon-ball was taken away from us (to the grief of its 
daily wielders, Harree and Fritz) by four perspiring plant ons, 
who almost died in the performance of their highly patriotic 
duty. His friend. The Barber, had a little shelf in The Enor- 
mous Room, all tricked out with an astonishing array of bot- 
tles, atomizers, tonics, powders, scissors, razors and other 
deadly implements. It has always been a mystere to me that 
our captors permitted this array of obviously dangerous 
weapons when we were searched almost weekly for knives. 
Had I not been in the habit of using B.'s safety razor I should 
probably have become better acquainted with The Barber. It 
was not his price, nor yet his technique, but the fear of con- 
tamination which made me avoid these instruments of hygiene. 
Not that I shaved to excess. On the contrary, the Surveillant 
often, nay bi-weekly (so soon as I began drawing certain 
francs from Norton Harjes) reasoned with me upon th^ sub- 

A Group of Portraits 105 

ject of appearance ; saying that I was come of a good family, 
that I had enjoyed (unHke my companions) an education, and 
that I should keep myself neat and clean and be a shining ex- 
ample to the filthy and ignorant — adding slyly that the "hos- 
pital" would be an awfully nice place for me and my friend to 
live, and that there we could be by ourselves like gentlemen 
and have our meals served in the room, avoiding the salle a 
manger; moreover, the food would be what we liked, delicious 
food, especially cooked ... all (quoth the Surveillant with 
the itching palm of a Grand Central Porter awaiting his tip) 
for a mere trifle or so, which if I liked I could pay him on 
the spot — whereat I scornfully smiled, being inhibited by a 
somewhat selfish regard for my own welfare from kicking him 
through the window. To The Barber's credit be it said: he 
never once solicited my trade, although the Surveillant's "Soi- ^V 
meme" (ones^ jQ lectures (as B. and I referred to them) werej ' 
the delight of our numerous friends and must, through them, 
have reached his alert ears. He was a good-looking quiet man 
of perhaps thirty, with razor-keen eyes — and that's about all I 
know of him except that one day The Young Russian and The 
Barber, instead of passing from the cour directly to the build- 
ing, made use of a little door in an angle between the stone 
wall and the kitchen; and that to such good effect that we 
never saw them again. Nor were the ever-watchful guardians 
of our safety, the lion-hearted plantons, aware of what had 
occurred until several hours after ; despite the fact that a ten- 
foot wall had been scaled, some lesser obstructions vanquished, 
and a run in the open made almost (one unpatriotically-minded 
might be tempted to say) before their very eyes. But then — 
who knows? May not the French Government deliberately 
have allowed them to escape, after — — ^through its incompar- 
able spy system learning that The Barber and his young 

friend were about to attempt the life of the Surveillant with 
an atomizer brim- full of T.N.T. ? Nothing could after all be 
more highly probable. As a matter of fact a couple of extra- 
fine razors (presented by the Soi-meme-minded Surveillant to 
the wily coiffeur in the interests of public health) as well as a 

io6 The Enormous Room 


knife which belonged to th e kitchen and had been leant to 
The Barber for the purpose ot peeling potatoes — he having 
complained that the extraordinary safety-device with which, 
on alternate days, we were ordinarily furnished for that pur- 
pose, was an insult to himself and his profession — vanished 
into the rather thick air of Orne along with The Barber lui- 
meme. I remember him perfectly in The Enormous Room, 
cutting apples deliberately with his knife and sharing them 
with the Young Russian. The night of the escape — in order 
to keep up our morale — we were helpfully told that both ref- 
ugees had been snitched e'er they had got well without the 
limits of the town, and been remanded to a punishment consist- 
ing among other things, in travaux forces a perpetuite — ver- 
bum sapientibus, he that hath ears, etc. Also a nightly inspec- 
tion was instituted; consisting of our being counted thrice by 
a planton, who then divided the total by three and vanished. 

Soi-meme reminds me of a pleasant spirit who graced our 
little company with a good deal of wit and elegance. He was 
called by B. and myself, after a somewhat exciting incident 
which I must not describe, but rather outline, by the agreeable 
title of Meme le Balayeur. Only a few days after my arrival 
the incident in question happened. It seems (I was in la cour 
promenading for the afternoon) that certain more virile inhabi- 
tants of The Enormous Room, among them Harree and Pom 
Pom Men entendu, declined to se promener and kept their 
^OiaHHaff' Now this was in fulfilment of a little understanding 
witlTlHree or more girls — such as Celina, Lily and Renee — 
who, having also declined the promenade, managed in the 
course of the afternoon to escape from their quarters on the 
second floor, rush down the hall and upstairs, and gain that 
landing on which was the only and well-locked door to The 
Enormous Room. The next act of this little comedy (or 
tragedy, as it proved for the participants, who got cabinot 
and pain sec — male and female alike — for numerous days there" 
after) might well be entitled "Love will find a way.'^ Just 
how the door was opened, the lock picked, etc., from the inside 
is (of course) a considerable mystery to anyone possessing a 

A Group of Portraits 107 

limited acquaintance with the art of burglary. Anyway it was 
accomplished, and that in several fifths of a second. Now let 
the curtain fall, and the reader be satisfied with the significant 
word "Asbestos," which is part of all first-rate performances. 

The Surveillant, I fear, distrusted his halayeur. Balayeurs 
were always being changed because balayeurs were (in shame- 
ful contrast to the plant ons) invariably human beings. For 
this deplorable reason they inevitably carried notes to and fro 
between les hommes and les femmes. Upon which ground 
the halayeur in this case — a well-knit |keen-eyed agile man, 
with a sense of humor and sharp perception of men women 
and things in particular and in general — ^was called before the 
bar of an impromptu court, held by M. le Surveillant in The 
Enormous Room after the promenade. I shall not enter in 
detail into the nature of the charges pressed in certain cases, 
but confine myself to quoting the close of a peroration which 
would have done Demosthenes credit: 

''Meme le halayeur a tire un coup!** 

The individual in question mildly deprecated M. le Surveil- 
lant's opinion, while the audience roared and rocked with 
laughter of a somewhat ferocious sort. I have rarely seen the 
Surveillant so pleased with himself as after producing this bon 
mot. Only fear of his superior, the ogre-like Directeur, kept 
him from letting off entirely all concerned in what after all 
(from the European point of view) was an essentially human 
proceeding. As nobody could prove anything about Meme, he 
was not locked up in a dungeon ; but he lost his job of sweeper 
— which was quite as bad, I am sure, from his point of view — 
and from that day became a common inhabitant of The Enor- 
mous Room like any of the rest of us. 

His successor, Garibaldi, was a corker. 

How the Almighty French government in its Almighty Wis- 
dom ever found Garibaldi a place among us is more than I 
understand or ever will. He was a little tot in a faded blue- 
g^ay French uniform; and when he perspired he pushed a kepi 
up and back from his worried forehead which a lock of heavy 

io8 The Enormous Room 

hair threateningly overhung. As I recollect Garibaldi's terribly 
difficult, not to say complicated, lineage, his English mother 
had presented him to his Italian father in the country of 
France. However this trilogy may be, he had served at vari- 
ous times in the Italian, French and English armies. As there 
was (unless we call Garibaldi Italian, which he obviously was 
not) nary a subject of King Ponzi or Carruso or whatever be 
his name residing at La Ferte Mace, Garibaldi was in the habit 
of expressing himself — chiefly at the card table, be it said — 
in a curious language which might have been mistaken for 
French. To B. and me he spoke an equally curious language, 
but a perfectly recognizable one, i.e., Cockney Whitechapel 
English- He showed us a perfectly authentic mission-card 
which certified that his family had received a pittance from 
some charitable organization situated in the Whitechapel neigh- 
borhood, and that, moreover, they were in the habit of receiv- 
ing this pittance ; and that, finally, their claim to such pittance 
was amply justified by the poverty of their circumstances. Be- 
yond this valuable certificate. Garibaldi (which everyone called 
him) attained great incoherence. He had been wronged. He 
was always being misunderstood. His life had been a series 
of mysterious tribulations. I for one have the merest idea 
that Garibaldi was arrested for the theft of some peculiarly 
worthless trifle, and sent to the Limbo of La Ferte as a pen- 
ance. This merest idea is suggested by something which hap- 
pened when the Clever Man instituted a search for his missing 
knife — but I must introduce the Clever Man to my reader be- 
fore describing that rather beguiling incident. 

Conceive a tall, well-dressed, rather athletic, carefully kept, 
clean and neat, intelligent, not for a moment despondent, al- 
together superior man, fairly young (perhaps twenty-nine) 
and quite bald. He wins enough every night at Banque to 
enable him to pay the less fortunate to perform his corvee 
d'eau for him. As a consequence he takes his vile coffee in 
bed every morning, then smokes a cigarette or two lazily, then 
drops off for a nap, and gets up about the middle of the morn- 
ing promenade. Upon arising he strops a razor of his own 

W Group of Portraits 109 

(nobody knows how he gets away with a regular razor), care- 
fully lathers his face and neck^ — while gazing into a rather 
classy mirror which hangs night and day over his head, above 
a little shelf on which he displays at such times a complete 
toilet outfit — and proceeds to annihilate the inconsiderable 
growth of beard which his mirror reveals to him. Having 
completed the annihilation, he performs the most extensive 
ablutions per one of the three or four pails which The Enor- 
rr.vjus Room boasts, which pail is by common consent dedicated 
to his personal and exclusive use. All this time he has been 
singing loudly and musically the following sumptuously imagi- 
native ditty : 

"mEEt me tonight in DREAmland, 
UNder the SIL-v'ry mOOn, 
meet me in DREAmland, 
sweet dreamy DREAmland — 
there all my DRE-ams come trUE." 

His English accent is excellent. He pronounces his native 
language, which is the language of the Hollanders, crisply 
and firmly. He is not given to Gotverdummering. In addi- 
tion to Dutch and English he speaks French clearly and Belgian 
distinctly. I daresay he knows half a dozen languages in all. 
He gives me the impression of a man who would never be at 
a loss, in whatever circumstances he might find himself. A 
man capable of extricating himself from the most difficult sit- 
uation ; and that with the greatest ease. A man who bides his 
time; and improves the present by separating, one after one, 
his monied fellow-prisoners from their banknotes. He is, 
by all odds, the coolest player that I ever watched. Nothing 
worries him. If he loses two-hundred francs tonight, I am 
sure he will win it and fifty in addition tomorrow. He ac- 
cepts opponents without distinction — ^the stupid, the wily, the 
vain, the cautious, the desperate, the hopeless. He has not the 
slightest pity, not the least fear. In one of my numerous note- 
books I have this perfectly direct paragraph: 


no The Enormous Room 

Card table: 4 stares play banque with 2 cigarettes 
(1 dead) & A pipe the clashing faces yanked by a 
leanness of one candle bottle-stuck (Birth of X) 
where sits The Clever Man who pyramids, sings 
(mornings) "Meet Me . . ." 
which specimen of telegraphic technique, being interpreted, 
means: Judas, Garibaldi, and The Holland Skipper (whom 
the reader will meet de suite) — Garibaldi's cigarette having 
gone out. so greatly is he absorbed — play banque with four 
intent and highly focussed individuals who may or may not 
be T^f> .^rVinnlrnf^ptp r. MonsJeur Auguste« The Barber — and 
M^ r qe; with The Clever Mnn (as nearly always) acting as 
banker. The candle by whose somewhat uncorpulent illumina- 
tion the various physiognomies are yanked into a ferocious 
unity is stuck into the mouth of a bottle. The lighting of the 
whole, the rhythmic disposition of the figures, construct a 
sensuous integration suggestive of The Birth of Christ by one 
of the Old Masters. The Clever Man, having had his usual 
morning warble, is extremely quiet. He will win, he pyramids 
— and he pyramids because he has the cash and can afford to 
make every play a big one. All he needs is the rake of a 
croupier to complete his disinterested and wholly nerveless 
poise. He is a born gambler, is The Clever Man — and I dare 
say that to play cards in time of war constituted a heinous 
crime and I am certain that he played cards before he ar- 
rived at La Ferte; moreover, I suppose that to win at cards 
in time of war is an unutterable crime, and I know that he 
Kas won at cards before in his life — so now we have a per- 
fectly good and valid explanation of the presence of The 
Qever Man in our midst. The Clever Man's chief opponent 
was Judas. It was a real pleasure to us whenever of an eve- 
ning Judas sweated and mopped and sweated and lost more 
and more and was finally cleaned out. 

But The Skipper, I learned from certain prisoners who 
escorted the baggage of The Clever Man from The Enormous 
Room when he left us one day (as he did for some reason, to 
enjoy the benefits of freedom), paid the master-mind of the 


A Group of Portraits 1 1 1 

card table 150 francs at the gate — poor Skipper! upon whose 
vacant bed lay down luxuriously the Lobster, immediately to 
be wheeled fiercely all around The Enormous Room by the 
Guard Champetre and Judas, to the boisterous plaudits of tout 
le monde — ^but I started to tell about the afternoon when the 
master-mind lost his knife ; and tell it I will forthwith. B. and 
I were lying prone upon our respective beds when — presto, a 
storm arose at the further end of The Enormous Room. We 
looked, and beheld The Clever Man, thoroughly and efficiently 
angry, addressing, threatening and frightening generally a 
constantly increasing group of fellow-prisoners. After dis- 
missing with a few sharp linguistic cracks of the whip certain 
theories which seemed to be advanced by the bolder auditors 
with a view to palliating, persuading and tranquilizing his 
just wrath, he made for the nearest paillasse, turned it topsy- 
turvy, slit it neatly and suddenly from stem to stem with 
a jack-knife, banged the hay about, and then went with care- 
ful haste through the pitifully minute baggage of the paillasse's 
owner. Silence fell. No one, least of all the owner, said any- 
thing. From this bed The Clever Man turned to the next, 
treated it in the same fashion, searched it thoroughly, and 
made for the third. His motions were those of a perfectly 
oiled machine. He proceeded up the length of the room, vary- 
ing his procedure only by sparing an occasional mattress, 
throwing paillasses about, tumbling sacs and boxes inside out ; 
his face somewhat paler than usual but otherwise immaculate 
and expressionless. B. and I waited with some interest to see 
what would happen to our belongings. Arriving at our beds he 
paused, seemed to consider a moment, then, not touching our 
paillasses proper, proceeded to open our duffle bags and hunt 
half-heartedly, remarking that "somebody might have put it 
in;" and so passed on. "What in hell is the matter with that 
guy?" I asked of Fritz, who stood near us with a careless air, 
some scorn and considerable amusement in his eyes. "The 
bloody fool's lost his knife," was Fritz's answer. After com- 
pleting his rounds The Clever Man searched almost every- 
one except ourselves and Fritz, and absolutely subsided on his 

112 The Enormous Room 

own paillasse muttering occasionally "if he found it" what he'd 
do. I think he never did find it. It was a "beautiful" knife, 
John the Baigneur said. "What did it look like ?" I demanded 
with some curiosity. "It had a naked woman on the handle" 
Fritz said, his eyes sharp with amusement. 

And everyone agreed that it was a great pity that The 
Clever Man had lost it, and everyone began timidly to restore 
order and put his personal belongings back in place and say 
nothing at all. 

But what amused me was to see the little tot in a bluish- 
grey French uniform, Garibaldi, who — about when the search 
approached his paillasse — suddenly hurried over to B. (his 
perspiring forehead more perspiring than usual, his kepi set 
at an angle of insanity) and hurriedly presented B. with a long- 
lost German silver folding camp-knife^ purchased by B. from 
a fellow-member of Vingt-et-Un who was known to us as 
"Lord Algie" — a lanky, effeminate, brittle, spotless creature 
who was en route to becoming an officer and to whose finicky 
tastes the fat-jowled A. tirelessly pandered, for, doubtless, fi- 
nancial considerations — which knife according to the trembling 
and altogether miserable Garibaldi had "been found" by him 
that day in the cour; which was eminently and above all things 
curious, as the treasure had been lost weeks before. 

Which again brings us to the Skipper, whose elaborate couch 
has already been mentioned — ^he was a Hollander and one of 
the strongest, most gentle and altogether most pleasant of men, 
who used to sit on the water-wagon under the shed in the 
cour and smoke his pipe quietly of an afternoon. His stocky 
even tightly-knit person, in its heavy trousers and jersey 
sweater, culminated in a bronzed face which was at once as 
kind and firm a piece of supernatural work as I think I ever 
knew. His voice was agreeably modulated. He was utterly 
without affectation. He had three sons. One evening a num- 
ber of gendarmes came to his house and told him that he was 
arrested, "so my three sons and I threw them all out of the 
window into the canal." 

A Group of Portraits 113 

I can still see the opening smile, squared kindness of cheeks, 
eyes like cool keys — his heart always with the Sea. 

The little Machine-Fixer (le petit bonhomme avec le bras 
casse as he styled himself, referring to his little paralyzed left 
arm) was so perfectly different that I must let you see him 
next. He was slightly taller than Garibaldi, about of a size 
with Monsieur Auguste. He and Monsieur Auguste together 
were a fine sight, a sight which made me feel that I came of a 
race of giants. I am afraid it was more or less as giants 
that B. and I pitied the Machine-Fixer — still this was not really 
our fault, since the Machine-Fixer came to us with his troubles 
much as a very minute and helpless child comes to a very 
large and omnipotent one. And God knows we did not only 
pity him, we liked him — and if we could in some often ridicu- 
lous manner assist The Machine-Fixer I think we nearly al- 
ways did. The assistance to which I refer was wholly spiritual/ 
since the minute Machine-Fixer's colossal self -pride eliminated 
any possibility of material assistance. What we did, about 
every other night, was to entertain him (as we entertained our 
other friends) ches nous; that is to say, he would come up 
late every evening or every other evening, after his day's toil 
— for he worked as co-sweeper with Garibaldi and he was a 
tremendous worker; never have I seen a man who took his 
work so seriously and made so much of it — ^to sit, with great 
care and very respectfully, upon one or the other of our beds 
at the upper end of The Enormous Room, and smoke a black 
small pipe, talking excitedly and strenuously and fiercely about 
La Mis ere and himself and ourselves, often crying a little but 
very bitterly, and from time to time striking matches with a 
short angry gesture on the sole of his big almost square boot. 
His little, abrupt, conscientious, relentless, difficult self lived 
always in a single dimension — the somewhat beautiful dimen- 
sion of Sorrow. He was a Belgian, and one of two Belgians 
in whom I have ever felt the least or slightest interest ; for the 
Machine-Fixer might have been a Polak or an Idol or an 
Esquimo so far as his nationality affected his soul. By and 
large, that was the trouble — the Machine-Fixer had a soul. 

114 The Enormous Room 

Put the bracelets on an ordinary man, tell him he's a bad tggy 
treat him rough, shove him into the jug or its equivalent (you 
see I have regard always for M. le Surveillant's delicate but 
no doubt necessary distinction between La Ferte and Prison), 
and he will become one of three animals — a rabbit, that is to 
say timid; a mole, that is to say stupid; or a hyena, that is 
say Harree the Hollander. But if, by some fatal, some in- 
comparably fatal accident, this man has a soul — ah, then we 
have and truly have most horribly what is called in La Ferte 
Mace by those who have known it: La Misere. Monsieur 
Auguste's valient attempts at cheerfulness and the natural 
buoyancy of his gentle disposition in a slight degree protected 
him from La Misere. The Machine-Fixer was lost. By nature 
he was tremendously sensible, he was the very apotheosis of 
rame sensible in fact. His sensibilite made him shoulder not 
only the inexcusable injustice which he had suffered but the 
incomparable and overwhelming total injustice which every- 
one had suffered and was suffering en masse day and night in 
The Enormous Room. His woes, had they not sprung from 
perfectly real causes, might have suggested a persecution com- 
plex. As it happened there was no possible method of re- 
lieving them — they could be relieved in only one way: by 
Liberty. Not simply by his personal liberty, but by the libera- 
tion of every single fellow-captive as well. His extraordinarily 
personal anguish could not be selfishly appeased by a merely 
partial righting, in his own case, of the Wrong — ^the ineffable 
and terrific and to be perfectly avenged Wrong — done to those 
who ate and slept and wept and played cards within that 
abominable and unyielding Symbol which enclosed the im- 
mutable vileness of our common life. It was necessary, for 
its appeasement, that a shaft of bright lightning suddenly and 
entirely should wither the human and material structures which 
stood always between our filthy and pitiful selves and the un- 
speakable cleanness of Liberty. 

B. recalls that the little Machine-Fixer said or hinted that 
he had been either a socialist or an anarchist when he was 
young. So that is doubtless why we had the privilege of his 

[A. Group of Portraits 115 

society. After all, it is highly improbable that this poor social- 
ist suffered more at the hands of the great and good French 
government than did many a Conscientious Objector at the 
hands of the great and good American government ; or — since 
all great governments are per se good and vice versa— than 
did many a man in general who was cursed with a talent for 
thinking during the warlike moments recently passed; during 
that is to say an epoch when the g. and g, nations demanded 
of their respective peoples the exact antithesis to thinking; 
said antitheses being vulgarly called Belief. Lest which state- 
ment prejudice some members of the American Legion in dis- 
favor of the Machine-Fixer or rather of myself — awful thought 
—I hasten to assure everyone that the Machine-Fixer was a 
highly moral person. His morality was at times almost grue- 
some ; as when he got started on the inhabitants of the women's 
quarters. Be it understood that the Machine-Fixer was human, 
that he would take a letter- — ^provided he liked the sender — 
and deliver it to the sender's adoree without a murmur. That 
was simply a good deed done for a friend; it did not imply 
that he approved of the friend's choice, which for strictly 
moral reasons he invariably and to the friend's very face 
violently deprecated. To this little man of perhaps forty-five, 
with a devoted wife waiting for him in Belgium (a wife whom 
he worshipped and loved more than he worshipped and loved 
anything in the world, a wife whose fidelity to her husband 
and whose trust and confidence in him echoed in the letters 
which — ^when we three were alone — ^the little Machine-Fixer 
tried always to read to us, never getting beyond the first sen- 
tence or two before he broke down and sobbed from his feet 
to his eyes), to such a little person his reaction to les femmes 
was more than natural. It was in fact inevitable. 

Women, to him at least, were of two kinds and two kinds 
only. There were les femmes honnetes and there were les 
putains. In La Ferte, he informed us — and as halayeiir he 
ought to have known whereof he spoke — there were as many 
as three ladies of the former variety. One of them he talked 
with often. She told him her story. She was a Russian, of 

ii6 The Enormous Room 

a very fine education, living peacefully in Paris up to the time 
that she wrote to her relatives a letter containing the follow- 
ing treasonable sentiment: 
"Je mennuie pour les neiges de Russie" 
The letter had been read by the French censor, as had 
B/s letter; and her arrest and transference from her home 
in Paris to La Ferte Mace promptly followed. She was as 
intelligent as she was virtuous and had nothing to do with her 
frailer sisters, so the Machine-Fixer informed us with a quickly 
passing flash of joy. Which sisters (his little forehead knotted 
itself and his big bushy eyebrows plunged together wrathfully) 
were wicked and indecent and utterly despicable disgraces to 
their sex — and this relentless Joseph fiercely and jerkily re- 
lated how only the day before he had repulsed the painfully 
obvious solicitations of a Madame Potiphar by turning his back, 
like a good Christian, upon temptation and marching out of 
the room, broom tightly clutched in virtuous hand. 

*'M'sieu Jean'* (meaning myself) "saves-vous" — ^with a 

terrific gesture which consisted in snapping his thumb-nail 

between his teeth—^'f^ PUEr 

f«^Then he added: "And what would my wifei say to me if I 

I came home to her and presented her with that which this crea- 

\ ture had presented to me? They are animals," cried the little 

I Machine Fixer ; "all they want is a man. They don't care who 

j he is ; they want a man. But they won't get me !" And he 

Lajarned us to beware. 

Especially interesting, not to say valuable, was the Machine 
Fixer's testimony concerning the more or less regular "inspec- 
tions" (which were held by the very same doctor who had 
"examined" me in the course of my first day at La Ferte) 
for les femmes; presumably in the interest of public safety. 
Les femmes, quoth the Machine Fixer, who had been many 
times an eye-witness of this proceeding, lined up talking and 
laughing and — crime of crimes — smoking cigarettes, outside 
the bureau of M. le Medecin Major, "line femme entre. 
Elle se leve les jupes jusqu'aii menton et se met sur le banc. 

A Group of Portraits 117 

Le medecin major la regarde. II dit de sudte 'Bon, Cest tout/ 
Elle sort. Une autre entre. La meme chose. 'Bon. Cest fini' 
. . . M'sieu' Jean: prenez garde!'* 

And he struck a match fiercely on the black almost square 
boot which lived on the end of his little worn trouser-leg, bend- 
ing his small body forward as he did so, and bringing the 
flame upward in a violent curve. And the flame settled on his 
little black pipe. And his cheeks sucked until they must have 
met, and a slow unwilling noise arose, and with the return of 
his cheeks a small colorless wisp of possibly smoke came upon 
the air. — That's not tobacco. Do you know what it is? It's 
wood! And I sit here smoking wood in my pipe when my 
wife is sick with worrying. . . . "M'sieu! Jean" — ^leaning 
forward with jaw . protruding and a oneness of bristly eye- 
brows, ''Ces grande messieurs qui ne foutent pas m^l si Von 
CREVE de faim, savez-vous ils croient chacun qu'il est Le Bon 
Dieu LUI-Meme. Et M'sieu' Jean, savez-vous, ils sont tous" — 
leaning right in my face, the withered hand making a pitiful 
fist of itself— '^& Sont. Des. CRAPULESr 

And his ghastly and toylike wizened and minute arm would 
try to make a pass at their lofty lives. O gouvernement 
frangais, I think it was not very clever of you to put this ter- 
rible doll in La Ferte ; I should have left him in Belgium with 
his little doll- wife if I had been You ; for when Governments 
are found dead there is always a little doll on top of them, 
pulling and tweaking with his little hands to get back the 
microscopic knife which sticks firmly in the quiet meat of 
their hearts. 

One day only did I see him happy or nearly happy — ^when 
a Belgian baroness for some reason arrived, and was bowed 
and fed and wined by the delightfully respectful and perfectly 
behaved Official Captors — *'and I know of her in Belgium, she 
is a great lady, she is very powerful and she is generous; I 
fell on my knees before her, and implored her in the name of 
my wife and Le Bon Dieu to intercede in my behalf ; and she 
has made a note of it, and she told me she would write the 
Belgian King and I will be free in a few weeks, FREE 1" 

ii8 The Enormous Room 

The little Machine-Fixer, I happen to know, did finally 
leave La Ferte — for Precigne. 

... In the kitchen worked a very remarkable person. 
Who were sabots. And sang continuously in a very subdued 
way to himself as he stirred the huge black kettles. We, that is 
to say, B. and I, became acquainted with Afrique very grad- 
ually. You did not know) Afrique suddenly. You became 
cognizant of Afrique gradually. You were in the coiir, staring 
at ooze and dead trees, when a figure came striding from the 
kitchen lifting its big wooden feet after it rhythmically, un- 
winding a particolored scarf from its waist as it came, and 
singing to itself in a subdued manner a jocular and, I fear, 
unprintable ditty concerning Paradise. The figure entered the 
little gate to the cour in a businesslike way, unwinding con- 
tinuously, and made stridingly for the cabinet situated up 
against the stone wall which separated the promenading sexes 
— dragging behind it on the ground a tail of ever-increasing 
dimensions. The cabinet reached, tail and figure parted com- 
pany ; the former fell inert to the limitless mud, the latter dis- 
appeared into the contrivance with a Jack-in-the-box rapidity. 
From which contrivance the continuing ditty 

''le paradis est une maison. . . ," 
— Or again, it's a lithe pausing poise, intensely intelligent, 
certainly sensitive, delivering dryingly a series of sure and 
rapid hints that penetrate the fabric of stupidity accurately 
and whisperingly ; dealing one after another brief and poig- 
nant instupiditties, distinct and uncompromising, crisp and 
altogether arrowlike. The poise has a cigarette in its hand, 
which cigarette it has just pausingly rolled from material fur- 
nished by a number of carefully saved butts (whereof Afri- 
que's pockets are invariably full. It's neither old nor young, 
but rather keen face hoards a pair of greyish-blue witty eyes, 
which face and eyes are directed upon us through the open 
door of a little room. Which little room is in the rear of the 
cuisine \ a little room filled with the inexpressably clean and 
soft odor of newly-cut wood. Which wood we are pretending 
to split and pile for kindling. As a matter of fact we are en- 


A Group of Portraits 119 

joying Afrique^s conversation, escaping from the bleak and 
profoundly muddy cour, and (under the watchful auspices of 
the Cook, who plays sentinel) drinking something approxi- 
mating coffee with something approximating sugar therein. All 
this because the Cook thinks we're boches and being the Cook 
and a boche lui-meme is consequently peculiarly concerned for 
our welfare. 

Afrique is talking about les joiirnaux, and to what pro- 
digious pains they go to not tell the truth ; or he is telling how 
a native stole up on him in the night armed with a spear two 
metres long, once on a time in a certain part of the world ; 
or he is predicting that the Germans will march upon the 
French by way of Switzerland; or he is teaching us to count 
and swear in Arabic ; or he is having a very good time in the 
Midi as a tinker, sleeping under a tree outside of a little 
town. . . . 5ce. p>)OSl^ 5 [m^ w(a^*>\h]^. 

Afrique's is an aiert kind of mind, which hasT)een and seen 
and observed and penetrated and known — a bit there, some- 
what here, chiefly everywhere. Its specialty being politics, 
in which case Afrique has had the inestimable advantage of 
observing without being observed — until La Ferte ; whereupon 
Afrique goes on uninterruptedly observing, recognizing that 
a. significant angle of observation has been presented to him 
gratis. Les journaux and politics in general are topics upon 
which Afrique can say more, without the slightest fatigue, 
than a book as big as my two thumbs. 

** Whv yes, they got water, and then I gave them coffee/ ' 
Monsieur, or more properly Mynheer le chef^ is expostulat- 
ing; the planted is stupidly protesting that we are supposed 
to be upstairs; Afrique is busily stirring a huge black pot, 
winking gravely at us and singing softly ju 

''Le bon Dku, Soul comme un cochon, * *qS 

l^lSS'il^ pJOS'^lQf/. 



The inhabitants of The Enormous Room whose portraits I 
have attempted in the preceding chapter, were, with one or two 
exceptions, inhabiting at the time of my arrival. Now the 
thing which above all things made death worth living and life 
worth dying at La Forte Mace was the kinetic aspect of that 
institution; the arrivals, singly or in groups, of nouveaux of 
sundry nationalities whereby our otherwise more or less simple 
existence was happily complicated, our putrescent placidity 
shaken by a fortunate violence. Before, however, undertak- 
ing this aspect I shall attempt to represent for my own benefit 
as well as the reader's certain more obvious elements of that 
stasis which greeted the candidates for disintegration upofi 
their admittance to our select, not to say distinguished, circle. 
Or: I shall describe, briefly, Apollyon and the instruments of 
his power, which instruments are three in number : Fear, 
Women and Sunday. 

By Apollyon I mean a very definite fiend. A fiend who, 
secluded in the sumptuous and luxurious privacy of his own 
personal bureau (which as a rule no one of lesser rank than 
the Surveillant was allowed, so far as I might observe — and I 
observed — to enter) compelled to the unimaginable meanness 
of his will by means of the three potent instruments in ques- 
tion all within the sweating walls of La Ferte — that was once 
upon a time human. I mean a very complete Apollyon, a 
Satan whose word is dreadful not because it is painstakingly 
unjust, but because it is incomprehensibly omnipotent. I mean, 
in short, Monsieur le Directeur. 


Apollyon 121 

I shall discuss first of all Monsieur le Directeur's most obvi- 
ous weapon. 

Fear was instilled by three means into the ertswhile human 
entities whose presence at La Ferte gave Apollyon his job. 
The three means were: through his subordinates, who being 
one and all fearful of his power directed their energies to but 
one end — the production in ourselves of a similar emotion; 
through two forms of punishment, which supplied said sub- 
ordinates with a weapon over any of us who refused to find 
room for this desolating emotion in his heart of hearts ; and, 
finally, through direct contact with his unutterable personality. 

Beneath the Demon was the Surveillant. I have already de- 
scribed the Surveillant. I wish to say, however, that in my 
opinion the Surveillant was the most decent official at La 
Ferte. I pay him this tribute gladly and honestly. To me, 
at least, he was kind: to the majority he was inclined to be 
lenient. I honestly and gladly believe that the Surveillant was 
incapable of that quality whose innateness, in the case of his 
superior, rendered that gentleman a (to my mind) perfect 
representative of the Almighty French Government: I believe 
that the Surveillant did not enjoy being cruel, that he was not 
absolutely without pity or understanding. As a personality I 
therefore pay him my respects. I am myself incapable of car- 
ing whether, as a tool of the Devil, he will find the bright fire- 
light of Hell too warm for him or no. 
\/ Beneath the Surveillant were the Secretaire, Monsieur 
Richard, the Cook, and the plantons. The first I have de- 
scribed sufficiently, since he was an obedient and negative — 
albeit peculiarly responsible — cog in the machine of decompo- 
sition. Of Monsieur Richard, whose portrait is included in 
the account of my first day at La Ferte, I wish to say that he 
had a very comfortable room of his own filled with primitive 
and otherwise imposing medicines; the walls of this comfort- 
able room being beauteously adorned by some fifty magazine 
covers representing the female form in every imaginable state 
of undress, said magazine-covers being taken chiefly from such 
amorous periodicals as Le Sourire and that old stand-by of 

122 The Enormous Room 

indecency, La Vie Parisienne. Also Monsieur Richard kept 
a pot of geraniums upon his window-ledge, which haggard 
and aged-looking symbol of joy^ he doubtless (in his spare mo- 
ments) peculiarly enjoyed watering. The Cook is by this time 
familiar to my reader. I beg to say that I highly approve of 
The Cook ; exclusive of the fact that the coffee, which went up 
to The Enormous Room tous les matins, was made every day 
with the same grounds plus a goodly injection of checker berry 
— for the simple reason that the Cook had to supply our cap- 
tors and especially Apollyon with real coffee, whereas what 
he supplied to les hommes made no difference. The same is 
true of sugar: our morning coffee, in addition to being a 
water-thin black muddy stinking liquid, contained not the 
smallest suggestion of sweetness, whereas the coffee which 
went to the officials — ^and the coffee which B. and I drank 
in recompense for "catching water" — had all the sugar you 
could possibly wish for. The poor Cook was fined one day as 
a result of his economies, subsequent to a united action on the 
part of the fellow-sufferers. It was a day when a gent im- 
maculately dressed appeared — ^after duly warning the Fiend 
that he was about to inspect the Fiend's menage — an I think 
public official of Orne. Judas (at the time chef de chambre) 
supported by the sole and unique indignation of all his fellow- 
prisoners save two or three out of whom Fear had made rab- 
bits or moles, early carried the pail (which by common agree- 
ment not one of us had touched that day) downstairs, along 
the hall, and up one flight — where he encountered the Direc- 
teur, Surveillant and Handsome Stranger all amicably and 
pleasantly conversing. Judas set the pail down ; bowed ; and 
begged, as spokesman for the united male gender of La Ferte 
Mace, that the quality of the coffee be examined. "We won't 
any of us drink it, begging your pardon, Messieurs," he claims 
that he said. What happened then is highly amusing. The 
petit balayeur, an eye-witness of the proceeding, described it 
to me as follows : 

"The Directeur roared 'COMMENTf He was horribly an- 
gry. 'Oui, Monsieur' said the maitre de chambre humbly. — 


Apollyon 123 

Tourquoif thundered the Directeur.— 'Because it's undrink- 
able/ the maitre de chambre said quietly. — 'Undrinkable ? 
Nonsense!' cried the Directeur furiously. — 'Be so good as to 
taste it, Monsieur le Directeur.' — 7 taste it? Why should I 
taste it? The coffee is perfectly good, plenty good for you 

men. This is ridiculous ' —'Why don't we all taste it?' 

suggested the Surveillant ingratiatingly. — 'Why, yes,' said the 
Visitor mildly. — 'Taste it? Of course not. This is ridiculous 

and I shall punish ' — 'I should like, if you don't mind, to 

try a little,' the Visitor said. — *Oh, well, of course, if you like,' 
the Directeur mildly agreed. 'Give me a cup of that coffee, 
you!' — 'With pleasure, sir,' said the maitre de chambre. The 
Directeur — M'sieu' Jean, you would have burst laughing — 
seized the cup, lifted it to his lips, swallowed with a frightful 
expression (his eyes almost popping out of his head) and 
cried fiercely, 'DELICIOUS !' The Surveillant took a cupful ; 
sipped; tossed the coffee away, looking as if he had been hit 
in the eyes, and remarked, *Ah.' The maitre de chambre — 
M'sieu' Jean he is clever — scooped the third cupful from the 
bottom of the pail, and very politely, with a big bow, handed 
it to the Visitor ; who took it, touched it to his lips, turned per- 
fectly green, and cried out 'Impossible!' M'sieu' Jean, we all 
thought — the Directeur and the Surveillant and the maitre de 
chambre and myself — that he was going to vomit. He leaned 
against the wall a moment, quite green; then recovering said 
faintly — 'The Kitchen.' The Directeur looked very nervous 
and shouted, trembling all over, 'Yes, indeed! We'll see The 
Cook about this perfectly impossible coffee. I had no idea that 
my men were getting such coffee. It's abominable! That's 
what it is, an outrage!' — ^And they all tottered downstairs to 
the cook; and M'sieu' Jean, they searched the kitchen; and 
what do youl think? They found ten pounds of coffee and 
twelve pounds of sugar all neatly hidden away, that The Cook 
had been saving for himself out of our allowance. He's a 
beast, the Cook!" 

I must say that, although the morning coffee improved 

124 The Enormous Room 

enormously for as much as a week, it descended afterwards 
to its original level of excellence. 

The Cook, I may add, officiated three times a week at a 
little table to the left as you entered the dining-room. Here 
he stood, and threw at everyone (as everyone entered) a hunk 
of the most extraordinary meat which I have ever had the 
privilege of trying to masticate — it could not be tasted. It 
was pale and leathery. B. and myself often gave ours away 
in our hungriest mCxiients; which statement sounds as if we 
were generous to others, whereas the reason for these dona- 
tions was that we couldn't eat, let alone stand the sight of this 
staple of diet. We had to do our donating on the sly, since 
the chef always gave us choice pieces and we were anxious 
not to hurt the chefs feelings. There was a good deal of 
spasmodic protestation apropos la viande, but the Cook always 
bullied it down — nor was the meat his fault; since, from the 
miserable carcases which I have often seen carried into the 
kitchen from without, the Cook had to select something which 
would suit the meticulous stomach of the Lord of Hell, as 
also the less meticulous digestive organs of his minions ; and 
it was only after every planton had got a piece of viande to 
his plantonic taste that the captives, female and male, came in 
for consideration. 

On the whole, I think I never envied the Cook his strange 
and difficult, not to say gruesome, job. With the men en masse 
he was bound to be unpopular. To the good-will of those 
above he was necessarily more or less a slave. And on the 
whole, I liked the Cook very much, as did B. — for the very 
good and sufficient reason that he liked us both. 

About the plantons I have something to say, something 
which it gives me huge pleasure to say. I have to say, about 
the plantons, that as a bunch they struck me at the time and 
will always impress me as the next to the lowest species of 
human organism; the lowest, in my experienced estimation, 
being the gendarme proper. The plantons were, with one ex- 
ception — he of the black holster with whom I collided on the 
first day-— changed from time to time. Again with this one 

Apollyon 125 

exception, they were (as I have noted) apparently disabled men 
who were enjoying a vacation from the trenches in the lovely 
environs of Orne. Nearly all of them were witless. Every 
one of them had something the matter with him physically as 
well. For instance, one planton had a large wooden hand. 
Another was possessed of a long unmanageable left leg made, 
as nearly as I could discover, of tin. A third had a huge glass 

These peculiarities of physique, however, did not inhibit the 
plantons from certain essential and normal desires. On the 
contrary. The plantons probably realized that, in competition 
with the male world at large, their glass legs and tin hands and 
wooden eyes would not stand a Chinaman's chance of winning 
the affection and admiration of the fair sex. At any rate they 
were always on the alert for opportunities to triumph over 
the admiration and affection of les femmes at La Ferte, where 
their success was not endangered by competition. They had 
the bulge on everybody; and they used what bulge they had 
to such good advantage that one of themi, during my stay, was 
pursued with a revolver by their sergeant, captured, locked up 
and shipped off for court-martial on the charge of disobedience 
and threatening the life of a superior officer. He had been 
caught with the goods — ^that is to say, in the girFs cabinot — ^by 
said superior: an incapable, strutting, undersized, bepimpled 
person in a bright uniform who spent his time assuming the 
poses of a general for the benefit of the ladies ; of his admira- 
tion for whom and his intentions toward whom he made no 
secret. By all means one of the most disagreeable petty bullies 
whom I ever beheld. This arrest of a planton was, so long 
as I inhabited La Ferte, the only case in which abuse of the 
weaker sex was punished- That attempts at abuse were fre- 
quent I know from allusions and direct statements made in 
the letters which passed by way of the sweeper from the girls 
to their captive admirers. I might say that the senders of these 
letters, whom I shall attempt to portray presently, have my 
unmitigated and unqualified admiration. By all odds they 
possessed the most terrible vitality and bravery of any htunan 

126 The Enormous Room 

beings, women or nien, whom it has ever been my extraordi- 
nary luck to encounter, or ever will be (I am absolutely sure) 
in this world. 

The duties of the plant ons were those simple and obvious 
duties which only very stupid persons can perfectly fulfill, 
namely: to take turns guarding the building and its inhabi- 
tants; not to accept bribes, whether in the form of matches, 
cigarettes or conversation, from their prisoners ; to accompany 
anyone who went anywhere outside the walls (as did occa- 
sionally the balayeurs, to transport baggage; the men who 
did corvee; and the catchers of water for the cook, who pro- 
ceeded as far as the hydrant situated on the outskirts of the 
town — a momentous distance of perhaps five hundred feet) ; 
and finally to obey any and all orders from all and any su- 
periors without thinking. Plantons were supposed — ^but only 
supposed — ^to report any schemes for escaping which they 
might overhear during their watch upon les femmes et les 
hommes en promenade. Of course they never overheard any, 
since the least intelligent of the watched was a paragon of 
wisdom by comparison with the watchers. B. and I had a 
little ditty about plantons, of which I can quote (unfortu- 
nately) only the first line and refrain: 

"A planton loved a lady once 

(Cabbages and cauliflowers!)'' 

It was a very fine song. In concluding my remarks upon 
plantons I must, in justice to my subject, mention the three 
prime plantonic virtues — ^they were (1) beauty, as regards 
face and person and bearing, (2) chivalry, as regards women, 
(3) heroism, as regards males. 

The somewhat unique and amusing appearance of the 
plantons rather militated against than served to inculcate Fear 
— ^it was therefore not wionderful that they and the desired 
emotion were supported by two strictly enforced punishments, 
punishments which were meted out with equal and unflinch- 
ing severity to both sexes alike. The less undesirable punish- 


Apollyon 127 

ment was known as pain ^^c— which Fritz, shortly after my 
arrival, got for smashing a window-pane by accident; and 
which Harree and Pom Pom, the incorrigibles, were getting 
most of the time. This punishment consisted in denying to 
the culprit all nutriment save two stone-hard morsels of dry 
bread per diem. The culprit's intimate friends, of course, 
made a point of eating only a portion of their own morsels of 
soft heavy sour bread (we got two a day, with each soupe) 
and presenting the culprit with the rest. The common method 
of getting pain sec was also a simple one — it was for a man 
to wave, shout or make other signs audible or visual to an 
inhabitant of the women's quarters ; and, for a girl, to be seen 
at her window by the Directeur at any time during the morn- 
ing and afternoon promenades of the men. The punishment 
for sending a letter to a girl might possibly be pain sec, but 
was more often — I pronounce the word even now with a sink- 
ing of the heart, though curiously enough I escaped that for 
which it stands — cabinot. 

There were (as already mentioned) a number of cabinots, 
sometimes referred to as cachots by persons of linguistic pro- 
pensities. To repeat myself a little: at least three were sit- 
uated on the ground floor ; and these were used whenever pos- 
sible in preference to the one or ones upstairs, for the reason 
that they were naturally more damp and chill and dark and 
altogether more dismal and unhealthy. Dampness and cold 
were considerably increased by the substitution, for a floor, of 
two or three planks resting here and there in mud. I am now 
describing what my eyes saw, not what was shown to the in- 
spectors on their rare visits to the Directeur's little shop for 
making criminals. I know what these occasional visitors beheld, 
because it, too, I have seen with my own eyes : seen the two 
balayeurs staggering downstairs with a bed (consisting of a 
high iron frame, a huge mattress of delicious thickness, spot- 
less sheets, warm blankets, and a sort of quilt neatly folded 
over all) ; seen this bed placed by the panting sweepers in the 
thoroughly cleaned and otherwise immaculate cabinot at the 
foot of the stairs and opposite the kitchen, the well-scrubbed 

128 The Enormous Room 

door being left wide open. I saw this done as I was going to 
dinner. While the men were upstairs recovering from la 
soupe, the gentleman-inspectors were invited downstairs to 
look at a specimen of the Directeur's kindness — a kindness 
which he could not restrain even in the case of those who 
were guilty of some terrible wrong. (The little Belgian with 
the Broken Arm, alias the Machine-Fixer, missed not a word 
nor a gesture of all this ; and described the scene to me with 
an indignation which threatened his sanity.) Then, while les 
hommes were in the cour for the afternoon, the sweepers were 
rushed to The Enormous Room, which they cleaned to beat 
the band with the fear o£ Hell in them ; after which, the Di- 
recteur led his amiable guests leisurely upstairs and showed 
them the way the men kept their quarters ; kept them without 
dictation on the part of the officials, so fond were they of what 
was to them one and all more than a delightful temporary resi- 
dence — was in fact a home. From The Enormous Room the 
procession wended a gentle way to the women's quarters 
(scrubbed and swept in anticipation of their arrival) and so 
departed; conscious — no doubt — that in the Directeur France 
had found a rare specimen of whole-hearted and efficient gen- 

Upon being sentenced to cahinot, whether for writing 
intercepted letter, fighting, threatening a planton, or commit- 
ting some minor offense for the nth. time, a man took one 
blanket from his bed, carried it downstairs to the cachot, and 
disappeared therein for a night or many days and nights as 
the case might be. Before entering he was thoroughly 
searched and temporarily deprived of the contents of his 
pockets, whatever they might include. It was made certain 
that he had no cigarettes nor tobacco in any other form upon 
his person, and no matches. The door was locked behind him 
and double and triple locked — to judge by the sound — by a 
planton, usually the Black Holster, who on such occasions pro- 
duced a ring of enormous keys suggestive of a burlesque jailer. 
Within the stone walls of his dungeon (into which a beam of 
light no bigger than a ten-cent piece, and in some cases no 


Apollyon 129 

light at all, penetrated) the culprit could shout and scream his 
or her heart out if he or she liked, without serious annoyance 
to His Majesty King Satan. I wonder how many times, 
en route to la soupe or The Enormous Room or promenade, 
I have heard the unearthly smouldering laughter of girls or of 
men entombed within the drooling greenish walls of La Ferte 
Mace. A dozen times, I suppose, I have seen a friend of the 
entombed stoop adroitly and shove a cigarette or a piece of 
chocolate under the door, to the girls or the men or the girl 
or man screaming, shouting, and pommeling faintly behind 
that very door — but, you would say by the sound, a good part 
of a mile away. . . . Ah well, more of this later, when we 
come to les femmes on their own account. 

The third method employed to throw Fear into the minds 
of his captives lay, as I have said, in the sight of the Captor 
Himself. And this was by far the most efficient method. 

He loved to suddenly dash upon the girls when they were 
carrying their slops along the hall and downstairs, as (in com- 
mon with the men) they had to do at least twice every morn- 
ing and twice every afternoon. The corvee of girls and men 
were of course arranged so as not to coincide; yet somehow 
or other they managed to coincide on the average about once 
a week, or if not coincide, at any rate approach coincidence. 
On such occasions, as often as not under the planton's very 
stupid nose, a kiss or an embrace would be stolen — provoca- 
tive of much fierce laughter and some scurrying. Or else, 
while the moneyed captives (including B- and Cummings) 
were waiting their turn to enter the bureau de M. le Gestion- 
naire, or even were ascending the stairs with a planton behind 
them, en route to Mecca, along the hall would come five or six 
women staggering and carrying huge pails full to the brim of 
everyone knew what; five or six heads lowered, ill-dressed 
bodies tense with effort, free arms rigidly extended from the 
shoulder downward and outward in a plane at right angles 
to their difficult progress and thereby helping to balance the 
disconcerting load — all embarrassed, some humiliated, others 
desperately at ease — along they would come under the steady 

130 The Enormous Room 

sensual gaze of the men, under a gaze which seemed to eat 
them aHve . . . and then one of them would laugh with the 
laughter which is neither pitiful nor terrible, but horrible. . . . 

And BANG! would a door fly open, and ROAR! a well- 
dressed animal about five feet six inches in height, with promi- 
nent cuflfs and a sportive tie, the altogether decently and neatly 
clothed thick-built figure squirming from top to toe with anger, 
the large head trembling and white faced beneath a flourish- 
ing mane of coarse blackish bristly perhaps hair, the arm 
crooked at the elbow and shaking a huge fist of pinkish well- 
manicured flesh, the distinct cruel brightish eyes sprouting 
?rom their sockets under bushily enormous black eyebrows, the 
big, weak, coarse mouth extended almost from ear to ear, and 
spouting invective, the soggly brutal lips clinctied upward and 
backward, showing the huge horse-like teeth to the frothshot 
gums — ^ — 

And I saw once a little girl eleven years old scream in terror 
and drop her pail of slops, spilling most of it on her feet ; and 
seize it in a clutch of frail child's fingers, and stagger, sobbing 
and shaking, past the Fiend — one hand held over her con- 
torted face to shield her from the Awful Thing of Things — 
to the head of the stairs, where she collapsed, and was half- 
carried, half -dragged by one of the older ones to the floor below 
while another older one picked up her pail and lugged this 
and her own hurriedly downward. 

And after the last head had disappeared, Monsieur le Di- 
recteur continued to rave and shake and tremble for as much 
as ten seconds, his shoebrush mane crinkling with black anger 
— ^then, turning suddenly upon les hommes (who cowered up 
against the wall as men cower up against a material thing in 
the presence of the supernatural) he roared and shook his 
pinkish fist at us till the gold stud in his immaculate cuff 
walked out upon the wad of clenching flesh : 



for as much as half a minute; then turning his round-shoul- 


Apollyon 131: 

dered big back suddenly he adjusted his cuffs, muttering 
WOMEN, crammed his big fists into his trousers, pulled in 
his chin till his fattish jowl rippled along the square jaws, 
panted, grunted, very completely satisfied, very contented, 
rather proud of himself, took a strutting stride or two in his 
expensive shiny boots, and shot all at once through the open 
door which he SLAMMED after him. 

Apropos the particular incident described for purposes of 
illustration, I wish to state that I believe in miracles: the 
miracle being that I did not knock the spit-covered mouthful 
of teeth and jabbering brutish outthrust jowl (which certainly 
were not farther than eighteen inches from me) through the 
bullneck bulging in its spotless collar. For there are times 
when one almost decides not to merely observe . . . besides 
which, never in my life before had I wanted to kill, to thor- 
oughly extinguish and to entirely murder. Perhaps . . . 
some day. . . . Untb God I hope so. i . l:^ 

Amen. -^::^ 

Now I will try to give the reader a glimpse of the Women 
of La Ferte Mace. 

The little Machine-Fixer as I said in the preceding chapter, 
divided them into Good and Bad. He said there were as much 
as three Good ones, of which three he had talked to one and 
knew her story. Another of the three Good Women obvi- 
ously was Margherite — a big, strong female who did washing, 
and who was a permanent resident because she had been care- 
less enough to be born of German parents. I think I spoke 
with number three on the day I waited to be examined by the 
Commission — a Belgian girl, whom I shall mention later along 
with that incident. Whereat, by process of elimination, we 
arrive at les putams, whereof God may know how many there 
were at La Ferte, but I certainly do not. To les putains in 
general I have already made my deep and sincere bow. I 
should like to speak here of four individuals. They are Ce- 
lina, Lena, Lily, Renee. 

132 The Enormous Room 

Celina Tek was an extraordinarily beautiful animal. H 
firm girl's body eimanated a supreme vitality. It was neitb 
tall nor short, its movements nor graceful nor awkward. I 
came and went with a certain sexual velocity, a velocity whose 
health and vigor made everyone in La Ferte seem puny and 
old. Her deep semsual voice had a coarse richness. Her face, 
dark and young, annihilated easily the ancient and greyish 
walls. Her wonderful hair was shockingly black. Her per- 
fect teeth, when she smiled, reminded you of an animal. The 
cult of Isis neiver worshipped a more deep luxurious smile. 
This face, framed in the night of its hair, seemed (as it moved 
at the window overlooking the cour des femmes) inexorably 
and colossally young. The body was absolutely and fearlessly 
alive. In the impeccable and altogether admirable desolation 
of La Ferte and the Normandy Autumn Celina, easily and 
fiercely moving, was a kinesis. 

The French Government must have already recognized this^_| 
it called her incorrigible. ^ ^K 

Lena, also a Belgian, always and fortunately just missed^ 
being a type which in the American language (sometimes 
called "Slang") has a definite nomenclature. Lena had the 
makings of an ordinary broad. And yet, thanks to La Misere, 
a certain indubitable personality became gradually rescued. A 
tall hard face about which was loosely pitched some hay- 
colored hair. Strenuous and mutilated hands. A loose, rau- 
cous way of laughing, which contrasted well with Celina's 
definite gurgling titter. Energy rather than vitality. A cer- 
tain power and roughness about her laughter. She never 
smiled. She laughed loudly and obscenely and always. A 

Lily was a German girl, who looked unbelievably old, wore 
white, or once white dresses, had a sort of drawling scream in 
her throat besides a thick deadly cough, and floundered leanly 
under the eyes of men. Upon the skinny neck of Lily a face 
had been set for all the world to look upon and be afraid. The 
face itself was made of flesh green and almost putrescent. In 
each cheek a bloody spot. Which was not rouge, but the 


Apollyon 133 

flower which consumption plants in the cheek of its favorite. 
A face vulgar and vast and heavy-featured, about which a 
smile was always flopping uselessly. Occasionally Lily grinned, 
showing several monstrously decayed and perfectly yellow 
teeth, which teeth usually were smoking a cigarette. Her 
bluish hands were very interestingly dead; the fingers were 
nervous, they lived in cringing 4)ags of freckled skin, they 
might almost be alive- 
She was perhaps eighteen years old. 

Renee, the fourth member of the circle, was always well- 
dressed and somehow chic. Her silhouette had character, 
from the waved coiffure to the enormously high heels. Had 
Renee been able to restrain a perfectly toothless smile she 
might possibly have passed for a jeune gonzesse. She was not. 
The smile was ample and black. You saw through it into the 
back of her neck. You felt as if her life was in danger when 
she smiled, as it probably was. Her skin was not particularly 
tired. But Renee was old, older than Lena by several years ; 
perhaps twenty-five. Also about Renee there was a certain 
dangerous fragility, the fragility of unhealth. And yet Renee 
was hard, immeasurably hard. And accurate. Her exact 
movements were the movements of a mechanism. Including 
her voice, which had a purely mechanical timbre. She could 
do two things with this voice and two only — screech and 
boom. At times she tried to chuckle and almost fell apart. 
Renee was in fact dead. In looking at her for the first time, I 
realized that there may be something stylish about death. 

This first time was interesting in the extreme. It was Lily's 
birthday. We looked out of the windows which composed one 
side of the otherwise windowless Effiormous Room; looked 
down, and saw — ^just outside the wall of the building — Celina, 
Lena, Lily and a new girl who was Renee. They were all in- 
dividually intoxicated. Celina was joyously tight. Renee was 
stiffly bunnied. Lena was raucously pickled. Lily, floundering 
and staggering and tumbling and whirling, was utterly soused. 
She was all tricked out in an erstwhile dainty dress, white, 
and with ribbons* Celina (as always) wore black. Lena had 

134 The Enormous Room 

on a rather heavy striped sweater and skirt. Renee was im- 
maculate in tightfitting satin or something of the sort; she 
seemed to have somehow escaped from a doll's house over- 
night. About the group were a number of plant ons, roaring 
with laughter, teasing, insulting, encouraging, from time to 
time attempting to embrace the ladies. Celina gave one of 
them a terrific box on the ear. The mirth of the others was 
redoubled. Lily spun about and fell down, moaning and cough- 
ing, and screaming about her fiancee in Belgium : what a hand- 
some young fellow he was, how he had promised to marry 
her . . . shouts of enjoyment from the plant ons. Lena had 
to sit down or else fall down, so she sat down with a good 
deal of dignity, her back against the wall, and in that position 
attempted to execute a kind of dance. Les plant ons rocked 
and applauded. Celina smiled beautifully at the men who were 
staring from every window of The Enormous Room and, with 
a supreme effort, went over and dragged Renee (who had 
neatly and accurately folded up with machine-like rapidity in 
the mud) through the doorway and into the house. Eventual- 
ly Lena followed her example, capturing Lily en route. The 
scene must have consumed all of twenty minutes. The plantons 
were so mirth-stricken that they had to sit down and rest under 
the washing-shed. Of all the inhabitants of The Enormous 
Room, Fritz and Harree and Pom Pom and Bathhouse John 
enjoyed it most. I should include Jan, whose chin nearly 
rested on the window-sill with the little body belonging to it 
fluttering in an ugly interested way all the time. That Bath- 
house John's interest was largely cynical is evidenced by the 
remarks which he threw out between spittings- — ''Une section 
mesdames!" ''A la gare!" "Aux armes tout le mondeT etc. 
With the exception of these enthusiastic watchers, the other 
captives evidenced vague amusement — excepting Count Brag- 
ard who said with lofty disgust that it was "no better than a 
bloody knocking *ouse, Mr. Cummings" and Monsieur Pet-airs 
whose annoyance amounted to agony. Of course these twain 
were, comparatively speaking, old men. . . . 
The four female incorrigibles encountered less difficulty 

Apollyon 135 

attaining cabinet than any four specimens of incorrigibility 
among les hommes. Not only were they placed in dungeon 
vile with a frequency which amounted to continuity; their 
sentences were far more severe than those handed out to the 
men. Up to the time of my little visit to La Ferte I had in- 
nocently supposed that in referring to women as "the weaker 
sex" a man was strictly within his rights. La Ferte, if it 
did nothing else for my intelligence, rid it of this overpower- 
ing error. I recall, for example, a period of sixteen days and 
nights spent (during my stay) by the woman Lena in the 
cabinot. It was either toward the latter part of October or 
the early part of November that this occurred, I will not be 
sure which. The dampness of the Autumn was as terrible, 
under normal conditions — ^that is to say in The Enormous 
Room — as any climatic eccentricity which I have ever ex- 
perienced. We had a wood-burning stove in the middle of 
the room, which antiquated apparatus was kept going all day 
to the vast discomfort of eye's and noses not to mention throats 
and lungs — the pungent smoke filling the room with an atmos- 
phere next to unbreathable, but tolerated for the simple rea- 
son that it stood between ourselves and death. For even with 
the stove going full blast the wall never ceased to sweat and 
even trickle, so overpowering was the dampness. By night 
the chill was to myself — fortunately bedded at least eighteen 
inches from the floor and sleeping in my clothes; bedroll, 
blankets, and all, under and over me and around me — not 
merely perceptible but desolating. Once my bed broke, and 1 
S'pent the night perforce on the floor with only my mattress 
under me; to awake finally in the whitish dawn perfectly 
helpless with rheumatism. Yet with the exception of my 
bed and B.'s bed and a wooden, bunk which belonged to Bath- 
house John, every paillasse lay directly on the floor ; moreover 
the men who slept thus were three-quarters of them miserably 
clad, nor had they anything beyond their light-weight blankets 
— whereas I had a complete outfit including a big fur coat, 
which I had taken with me (as previously described) from the 
Section Sanitaire. The morning after my night spent on the 

136 The Enormous Room 

floor I pondered, having nothing to do and being unable to 
move, upon the subject of my physical endurance — wondering 
just how the men about me, many of them beyond middle age, 
some extremely delicate, in all not more than five or six as 
rugged constitutionally as myself, lived through the nights 
in The Enormous Room. Also I recollected glancing through 
on open door into the women's quarters, at the risk of being 
noticed by the planton in whose charge I was at the time (who, 
fortunately, was stupid even for a planton, else I should have 
been well punished for my curiosity) and beholding paillasses 
identical in all respects with ours reposing on the floor ; and I 
thought, if it is marvellous that old men and sick men can stand 
this and not die, it is certainly miraculous that girls of eleven 
and fifteen, and the baby which I saw once being caressed out 
in the women's cour with unspeakable gentleness by a little 
piitain whose name I do not know, and the dozen or so oldish 
females whom I have often seen on promenade^ — can stand this 
and not die. These things I mention not to excite the reader's 
pity nor yet his indignation ; I mention them because I do not 
know of any other way to indicate — it is no more than indicat- 
ing — ^the significance of the torture perpetrated under the 
Directeur's direction in the case of the girl Lena. If inci- 
dentally it throws light on the personality of the torturer I 
shall be gratified. 

Lena's confinement in the cabinot — which dungeon I have 
already attempted to describe but to whose filth and slime no 
words can begin to do justice — was in this case solitary. Once 
a day, of an afternoon and always at the time when all the men 
were upstairs after the second promenade (which gave the 
writer of this history an exquisite chance to see an atrocity at 
first-hand), Lena was taken out of the cabinot by three 
plant ons and permitted a half -hour promenade just outside 
the door of the building, or in the same locality — delimited by 
barbed wire on one side and the washing-shed on another: — 
made famous by the scene of inebriety above described. Punc- 
tually at the expiration of thirty minutes she was shoved back 
into the cabinot by the plantons. jEvery day for sixteen days I, 


Apollyon 137 

saw her ; noted the indestructible bravado of her gait and car- 
riage, the unchanging timbre of her terrible laughter in re- 
sponse to the salutation of an inhabitant of The Enormous 
Room (for there were at least six men who spoke to her daily, 
and took their pain sac and their cabinot in punishment there- 
for with the pride of a soldier who takes the medaille militaire 
in recompense for his valor) ; noted the increasing pallor of her 
flesh, watched the skin gradually assume a distinct greenish 
tint (a greenishness which I cannot describe save that it sug- ^ 
gested putrefaction) ; heard the coughing to which she had i 
always been subject grew thicker and deeper till it doubled her ' 
up every few minutes, creasing her body as you crease a piece 
of paper with your thumt)-nail, preparatory to tearing it in 
two — and I realised fully and irrevocably and for perhaps the 
first time the meaning of civilization. And I realised that it 
was true — as I had previously only suspected it to be true — 
that iii fiiit'^-v^ as unworthy of helping to carry forward the 
banner of progress, alias the tricolour, the inimitable and ex- 
cellent French government was conferring upon B. and myself 
— albeit with other intent — the ultimate compliment. 

And the Machine-Fixer, whose opinion of this blond putain 
grew and increased and soared with every day of her martyr- 
dom till the Machine-Fixer's former classification of les 
femmes exploded and disappeared entirely — ^the Machine- 
Fixer who would have fallen on his little knees to Lena had 
she given him a chance, and kissed the hem of her striped skirt 
in an ecstacy of adoration — ^told me that Lena on being final- 
ly released, walked up-stairs herself, holding hard to the banis- 
ter without a look for anyone, "having eyes as big as tea-cups." 
He added, with tears in his own eyes. 

"M'sieu' Jean, a woman." 

I recall perfectly being in the kitchen one day, hiding from 
the eagle-eye of the Black Holster and enjoying a talk on the 
economic consequences of war, said talk being delivered by 
Afrique. As a matter of fact, I was not in the cuisine proper 
but in the little room which I have mentioned previously. The 
door into the kitchen was shut. The sweetly soft odour of 


138 The Enormous Room 

newly-cut wood was around me. And all the time that Af rique 
was talking I heard clearly, through the shut door and through 
the kitchen wall and through the locked door of the cabinot 
situated directly across the hall from la cuisine, the insane 
gasping voice of a girl singing and yelling and screeching and 
laughing. Finally I interrupted my speaker to ask what on 
earth was the matter in the cabinot f — "C'est la femme die- 
mande qui s'appelle Lily'* Afrique briefly answered. A little 
later BANG went the cabinot door, and ROAR went the 
familiar coarse voice of the Directeur. It disturbs him, the 
noise, Afrique said. The cabinot door slammed. There was 
silence. Heavily steps ascended Then the song began again, 
a little more insane than before ; the laughter a little wilder. • . . 
You can't stop her, Afrique said admiringly. A great voice 
Mademoiselle has, eh? So, as I was saying, the national debt 
being conditioned — 

But the experience a propos les femmes, \^hich ,^ "[eant and 
will always mean more to me than any other, t^ scerxe>^hich 
, is a little more unbelievable than perhaps any scene that it 
' has ever been my privilege to witness, the incident which (pos- 
sibly more than any other) revealed to me those unspeakable 
foundations upon which are builded with infinite care such at 
once ornate and comfortable structures as La Gloire and Le 
Patriotisme — occurred in this wise. 

The men, myself among them, were leaving le cour for The 
Enormous Room under the watchful eye (as always) oi a 
planton. As we defiled through the little gate in the barbed wire 
fence we heard, apparently just inside the building whither 
we were proceeding on our way to The Great Upstairs, a tre- 
mendous sound of mingled screams, curses and crashings. The 
planton of the day was not only stupid — ^he was a little deaf ; 
to his ears this hideous racket had not, as nearly as one could 
see, penetrated. At all events he marched us along toward the 
door with utmost plantonic satisfaction and composure. I 
managed to insert myself in the fore of the procession, being 
eager to witness the scene within ; and reached the door almost 
simultaneously with Fritz, Harree and two or three others. I 


Apollyon 139 

forget which of us opened it. I will never forget what I saw 
as I crossed the threshold. 

The hall was filled with stifling smoke; the smoke which 
straw makes when it is set on fire, a peculiarly nauseous chok- 
ing, whitish-blue smoke. This smoke was so dense that only 
after some moments could I make out, with bleeding eyes and 
wounded lungs, anything whatever. What I saw was this: 
five or six plant ons were engaged in carrying out of the nearest 
cabinot two girls, who looked perfectly dead. Their bodies 
were absolutely limp. Their hands dragged foolishly along 
the floor as they were carried. Their upward white faces 
dangled loosely upon their necks. Their crumpled fingers sagged 
in the plantons' arms. I recognized Lily and Renee. Lena 
I made out at a little distance tottering against the door of 
the kitchen opposite the cabinot, her haycolored head droop- 
ing and swaying slowly upon the open breast of her shirt-waist, 
her legs far apart and propping with difficulty her hinging 
body, her hands spasmodically searching for the knob of the 
door. The smoke proceeded from the open cabinot in great 
ponderous murdering clouds. In one of these clouds, erect and 
tense and beautiful as an angel — her wildly shouting face 
framed in its huge night of dishevelled hair, her deep sexual 
voice, hoarsely strident above the din and smoke, shouting 
fiercely through the darkness- — stood, triumphantly and colos- 
sally young, Celina. Facing her, its clenched, pinkish fists 
raised high above its savagely bristling head in a big, brutal 
gesture of impotence and rage and anguish — ^the Fiend Him- 
self paused quivering. Through the smoke, the great bright 
voice of Celina rose at him, hoarse and rich and sudden and 
intensely luxurious, a quick, throaty, accurate, slaying deep- 
ness : 

and over and beneath and around the voice I saw frightened 
faces of women hanging in the smoke, some screaming with 
their lips apart and their eyes closed, some staring with wide 
eyes; and among the women's faces I discovered the large 
placid interested expression of the Gestionnaire and the nerv- 


tf^) The Enormous Room 

ous clicking eyes of the Surveillant. And there was a shout 
— it was the Black Holster shouting at us as we stood trans- 
fixed — 

"Who the devil brought the men in here? Get up with you 
where you belong, you. ..." 

— And he made a rush at us, and we dodged in the smoke 
and passed slowly up the hall, looking behind us, speechless 
to a man with the admiration of Terror till we reached the 
further flight of stairs.; and mounted slowly, with the din 
falling below us, ringing in our ears, beating upon our brains — 
mounted slowly with quickened blood and pale f aces ^O the. 
peace of The Enormous Room. ^a^C^ (^ *^^A*W^/jd« 

I spoke with both balayeurs that night. They tow me, in- 
dependently, the same story: the four incorrigibles had been 
locked in the cabinof ensemble. They made so much noise, 
particularly Lily, that the plantons were afraid the Directeur 
would be disturbed. Accordingly the plantons got together and 
stuffed the contents of a paillasse in the cracks around the 
door, and particularly in the crack under the door whereis 
cigarettes were commonly inserted by friends of the entombed. 
This process made the cabinot air-tight. But the plantons 
were not taking any chances on disturbing Monsieu le Direc- 
teur. They carefully lighted the paillasse at a number of 
points and stood back to see the results of their efforts. So 
soon as the smoke found its way inward the singing was sup- 
planted by coughing ; then the coughing stopped. Then nothing 
was heard. Then Celina began crying out within — -"Open the 
door, Lily and Renee are dead'' — ^and the plantons were 
frightened. After some debate they decided to open the door 
— out poured the smoke, and in it Celina, whose voice in a 
fraction of a second roused everyone in the building. The 
Black Holster wrestled with her and tried to knock her down 
by a blow on the mouth ; but she escaped, bleeding a little, to 
the foot of the stairs — simultaneously with the advent of the 
Directeur who for once had found someone beyond the power 
of his weapon, Fear, someone in contact with whose indescrib- 
able Youth the puny threats of death withered between his 


Apollyon 141 

lips, someone finally completely and unutterably Alive whom 
the Lie upon his slavering tongue could not kill. 

I do not need to say that, as soon as the girls who had 
fainted could be brought to, they joined Lena in pain sec for 
many days to come ; and that Celina was overpowered by six 
plantons — at the order of Monsieur le Directeur — and reincar- 
cerated in the cabinot adjoining that from which she had made 
her velocitous exist — reincarcerated without food for twenty- 
four hours. ^'Mais, M'sieu' Jean" the Machine-Fixer said 
trembling, "Vous savez elle est forte. She gave the six of 
them a fight, I tell you. And three of them went to the doctor 
as a result of their efforts, including le vieux (The Black Hols- 
ter). But of course they succeeded in beating her up, six 
men upon one woman. She was beaten badly, I tell you, be- 
fore she gave in. M'sien' Jean, Us sont tous — les plantons et 
le Difectdiur Lui-Meme et le Surveillant et le Gestionnaire et{ 
tous — Us sont des — ** and he said very nicely what they were, 
and lit his little black pipe with a crisp curving upward gesture, 
and shook like a blade of grass. 

With which specimen of purely mediaeval torture I leave the 
subject of Women, and embark upon the quieter if no less en- 
lightening subject of Sunday. 

Sunday, it will be recalled, was Monsieur le Directeur's third 
weapon. That is to say : lest the ordinarily tantalizing prox- 
imity of les femmes should not inspire les hommes to deeds 
which placed the doors automatically in the clutches of him- 
self, his subordinates, and la punition, it was arranged that 
once a week the tantalizing proximity aforesaid should be sup- 
planted by a positively maddening approach to coincidence. Or 
in other words, the men and the women for an hour or less 
might enjoy the same exceedingly small room; for purposes of 
course of devotion — it being obvious to Monsieur le Directeur 
that the representatives of both sexes at La Ferte Mace were 
inherently of a strongly devotional nature. And lest the temp- 
tation to err in such moments be deprived, through a certain 
aspect of compulsion, of its complete force, the attendance of 
such strictly devotional services was made optional. 

142 The Enormous Room 

The uplifting services to which I refer took place in that 
very room which (the night of my arrival) had yielded me my 
paillasse under the Surveillant's direction. It may have been 
thirty feet long and twenty wide. At one end was an altar 
at the top of several wooden stairs, with a large candle on each 
side. To the right as you entered a number of benches were 
placed to accommodate les femmes. Les hommes upon enter- 
ing took off their caps and stood over against the left wall so 
as to leave between them and the women an alley perhaps five 
feet wide. In this alley stood the Black Holster with his kepi 
firmly resting upon his head, his arms folded, his eyes spying 
to left and right in order to intercept any signals exchanged 
between the sheep and goats. Those who elected to enjoy spirit- 
ual things left the cour and their morning promenade after 
about an hour of promenading, while the materially minded 
remained to finish the promenade; or if one declined the 
promenade entirely (as frequently occurred owing to the fact 
that weather conditions on Sunday were invariably more in- 
describable than usual) a planton mounted to The Enor- 
mous Room and shouted; 

"La Messer 
several times; whereat the devotees lined up and were care- 
fully conducted to the scene of spiritual operations. 

The priest was changed every week. His assistant (whom 
I had the indescribable pleasure of seeing only upon Sundays) 
was always the same. It was his function to pick the priest 
up when he fell down after tripping upon his robe, to hand him 
things before he wanted them, to ring a huge bell, to inter- 
rupt the peculiarly divine portions of the service with a squeak- 
ing of his shoes, to gaze about from time to time upon the 
worshippers for purposes of intimidation, and finally — most 
important of all- — ^to blow out the two big candles at the very 
earliest opportunity, in the interests (doubtless) of economy. 
As he was a short fattish ancient strangely soggy creature and 
as his longish black suit was somewhat too big for him, he 
executed a series of profound efforts in extinguishing the 
candles. In fact he had to climb part way up the candles be- 


'Apollyon 143 

fore he could get at the flame; at which moment he looked 
very much like a weakly and fat boy ( for he was obviously in 
his second or fourth childhood) climbing a flag-pole. At 
moments of leisure he abased his fatty whitish jowl and con- 
templated with watery eyes the floor in front of his highly 
polished boots, having first placed his ugly clubby hands to- 
gether behind his most ample back. 

Sunday : green murmurs in coldness. Surplice fiercely fear- 
ful, praying on his bony both knees, crossing himself. . . . 
The Fake French Soldier, alias Garibaldi, beside him, a little 
face filled with terror , . . the Bell cranks the sharp-nosed 
priest on his knees . . . titter from bench of whores — 

And that reminds me of a Sunday afternoon on our backs 
spent with the wholeness of a hill in Chevancourt, discovering 
a great apple pie, ,B. and Jean Stahl and Maurice le Men- 
usier and myself; and the sun falling roundly before us. 

— And then one Dimanche a new high old man with a sharp 
violet face and green hair — ^''You are free>. my children, ta 
achieve immortality — Songez, songes, done — VEternite est une 
existence sans duree — Toujours le Paradis, toujours VEnfer" 
(to the silently roaring whores) "Heaven is made for you"^ — 
and the Belgian ten-foot farmer spat three times and wiped 
them with his foot, his nose dripping; and the nigger shot a 
white oyster into a far-oflF scarlet handkerchief — and) the 
priest's strings came untied and he sidled crablike down the 
steps — the two candles wiggle a strenuous softness. . . . 

In another chapter I will tell you about the nigger. 

And another Sunday I saw three tiny old females stumble 
forward, three very formerly and even once bonnets perched 
upon three wizened skulls, and flop clumsily before the priest, 
and take the wafer hungrily into their leathery faces. 




"Sunday (says Mr. Pound with infinite penetration) is a 
dreadful day, 

Monday is much pleasanter. 

Then let us muse a little space 

Upon fond Nature's morbid grace." fli 

It is a great and distinct pleasure to have penetrated and ar- ^' 
rived upon the outside of La Dimanche. We may now — Nature's 
morbid grace being a topic whereof the reader has already 
heard much and will necessarily hear more — turn to the "much 
pleasanter," the in fact "Monday," aspect of La Ferte; by 
which I mean les nouveaiix whose arrivals and reactions con- 
stituted the actual kinetic aspect of our otherwise merel;y^ real^ 
NonexistenQe,.^ So let us tighten our belts, (everyone used to 
tighten his belt at least twice a day at La Ferte, but for another 
reason — to follow and keep track of his surely shrinking 
anatomy) seize our staffs into our hands, and continue the^l 
ascent begun with the first pages of the story. 'SI 

One day I found myself expecting La Soupe Number 1 with 
something like avidity. My appetite faded, however, upon 
perceiving a vision en route to the empty place at my left. It 
slightly resembled a tall youth not more than sixteen or seven- 
teen years old, having flaxen hair, a face whose whiteness I 
have never seen equalled, and an expression of intense starva- 
tion which might have been well enough in a human being but 
was somewhat unnecessarily uncanny in a ghost. The ghost, 
floating and slenderly, made for the place beside me, seated 
himself suddenly and gently like a morsel of white wind, and 


An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 145 

regarded the wall before him. La soupe arrived. He ob- 
tained a plate (after some protest on the part of certain mem- 
bers of our table to whom the advent of a newcomer meant 
only that everyone would get less for lunch), and after gaz- 
ing at his portion for a second in apparent wonderment at its 
size caused it gently and suddenly to disappear. I was no 
sluggard as a rule, but found myself outclassed by minutes — 
which, said I to myself, is not to be worried over since 'tis 
sheer vanity to compete with the supernatural. But (even as 
I lugged the last spoonful of luke-warm greasy water to my 
lips) this ghost turned to me for all the world as if I too were 
a ghost, and remarked softly: 

"Will you lend me ten cents? I am going to buy tobacco 
at the canteen." 

One has no business crossing a spirit, I thought; and pro- 
duced the sum cheerfully — which sum disappeared, the ghost 
arose slenderly and soundlessly, and I was left with emptiness 
beside me. 

Later I discovered that this ghost was called Pete. 

Pete was a Hollander, and therefore found firm and staunch 
friends in Harree, John o' the Bathhouse and thg other 
Hollanders. In three days Pete discarded the immateriality 
which had constituted the exquisite definiteness of his advent, 
and donned the garb of flesh-and-blood. This change was due 
equally to La Soupe and the canteen, and to the finding of 
friends. For Pete had been in solitary confinement for three 
months and had had nothing to eat but bread and water dur- 
ing that time, having been told by the jailors (as he informed 
us, without a trace of bitterness) that they would shorten his 
sentence provided he did not partake of La Soupe during his 
incarceration — ^that is to say, le gouvernement frangais had a 
little joke at Pete's expense. Also he had known nobody dur- 
ing that time but the five fingers which deposited said bread 
and water with conscientious regularity on the ground beside 
him. Being a Hollander neither of these things killed him — • 
on the contrary, he merely turned into a ghost, thereby fooling 
the excellent French government within an inch of its f oolable 

146 The Enormous Room 

life. He was a very excellent friend of ours — I refer as 
usual to B. and myself — and from the day of his arrival until 
the day of his departure to Precigne along with B. and three 
others I never ceased to like and to admire him. He was 
naturally sensitive, extremely the antithesis of coarse (which 
"refined" somehow does not imply) had not in the least suf- 
fered from a "good," as we say, education, and possessed an 
at once frank and unobstreperous personality. Very little that 
had happened to Pete's physique had escaped Pete's mind. 
This mind of his quietly and firmly had expanded in pro- 
portion as its owner's trousers had become too big around the 
waist — altogether not so extraordinary as was the fact that, 
after being physically transformed as I have never seen a 
human being transformed by food and friends, Pete thought 
and acted with exactly the same quietness and firmness as be- 
fore. He was a rare spirit, and I salute him wherever he is. 
Mexique was a good friend of Pete's, as he was of ours. 
He had been introduced to us by a man we called One Eyed 
David, who was married and had a wife downstairs, with 
which wife he was allowed to live all day — being conducted 
to and from her society by a planton. He spoke Spanish well 
and French passably; had black hair, bright Jewish eyes, a 
dead-fish expression, and a both amiable and courteous disposi- 
tion. One Eyed Dah-veed (as it was pronounced of course) 
had been in prison at Noyon during the German occupation, 
which he described fully and without hyperbole — stating that 
no one could have been more considerate or just than the com- 
mander of the invading troops. Dah-veed had seen with his 
own eyes a French girl extend an apple to one of the com- 
mon soldiers as the German army entered the outskirts of 
the city : " Take it,' she said, *you are tired.' — *Madame,' 
answered the German soldier in French, *thank you' — and he 
looked in his pocket and found ten cents. *No, no,' the young 
girl said" *I don't want any money. I give it to you with good 
will.' — 'Pardon, madame,' said the soldier, *you must know 
that a German soldier is forbidden to take anything without 
paying for it.'" — ^And before that. One Eyed Dah-veed had 


An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 147 

talked at Noyon with a barber whose brother was an aviator 
with the French Army : " *My brother/ the barber said to me, 
*told me a beautiful story the other day. He was flying over 
thq lines, and he was amazed, one day, to see that the French . 
guns were not firing on the boches but on the French them- 
selves. He landed precipitously, sprang from his machine and 
ran to the office of the general. He saluted, and cried in great 
excitement : 'General, you are firing on the French V The gen- 
eral regarded him without interest, without budging; then, he 
said, very simply : *They have begun, they must finish.' " Which 
is why perhaps, said One Eyed Dah-veed, looking two ways at 
once with his uncorrected eyes, the; Germans entered Noyon. . • 
But to return to Mexique. 

One night we had a soiree, as Dah-veed called it, a propos 
a pot of hot tea which Dah-veed's wife had given him to take 
upstairs, it being damnably damp and cold (as usual) in The 
Enormous Room. Dah-veed, cautiously and in a low voice, 
invited us to his mattress to enjoy this extraordinary pleasure; 
and we accepted, B. and I, with huge joy; and sitting on Dah- 
veed's paillasse we found somebody who turned out to be 
Mexique — ^to whom, by his right name, our host introduced us 
with all the poise and courtesy vulgarly associated with a 
French salon. 

For Mexique I cherish and always will cherish unmitigated 
affection. He was perhaps nineteen years old, very chubby, 
extremely good-natured ; and possessed of an unruffled disposi- 
tion which extended to the most violent and obvious discom- 
forts a subtle and placid illumination. He spoke beautiful 
Spanish, had been born in Mexico, and was really called 
Philippe Burgos. He had been in New York. He criticised 
some one for saying "Yes" to us, one day, stating that no 
American said "Yes'' but "Yuh;" which — whatever the reader 
may think — is to my mind a very profound observation. In 
New York he had worked nights as a fireman in some big 
building or other and slept days, and this method of seeing 
America he had enjoyed extremely. Mexique had one day 
taken ship (being curious to see the v/orld) and worked as 

148 The Enormous Room 

chauffeur — that is to say in the stoke-hole. He had landed in, 
I think, Havre; had missed his ship; had inquired something 
of a gendarme in French (which he spoke not at all, with the 
exception of a phrase or two like ''quelle heure qu'il estf) ; 
had been kindly treated and told that he would be taken to a. 
ship de suite — ^had boarded a train in the company of two or 
three kind gendarmes, ridden a prodigious distance, got off the 
train finally with high hopes, walked a little distance, come ii> 
sight of the grey perspiring wall of La Ferte, and- — "So, I ask 
one of them: Where is the Ship?' He point to here and tell 
me, *there is the ship.' I say: This is a God Dam Funny 
Ship'" — quoth Mexique, laughing. 

Mexique played dominoes with us (B. having devised a set 
from card-board), strolled The Enormous Room with us, tell- 
ing of his father and brother in Mexico, of the people, of the 
customs; and — when we were in the cour — wrote the entire 
conjugation of tengo in the deep mud with a little stick, 
squatting/ and chuckling and explaining. He and his brother 
had both participated in the revolution which made Carranza 
president. His description of which affair was utterly de- 

"Every-body run a-round with guns" Mexique said. "And 
bye-and-bye no see to shoot everybody, so everybody go home." 
We asked if he had shot anybody himself. "Sure. I shoot 
everybody I do'no" Mexique answered laughing. "I t'ink 
every-body no hit me" he added, regarding his stocky person 
with great and quiet amusement. When we asked him once 
what he thought about the war, he replied "I t'ink lotta bull 
," which, upon copious reflection, I decided absolutely ex- 
pressed my own point of view. 

Mexique was generous, incapable of either stupidity or 
despondency, and mannered as a gentleman is supposed to be. 
Upon his arrival he wrote almost immediately to the Mexican 
(or is it Spanish?) consul — 'TFIe know my fader in Mexico" — 
stating in perfect and unambiguous Spanish the facts leading 
to his arrest ; and when I said good-bye to La Miser e Mexique 
was expecting a favorable reply at any moment, as indeed he 

An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 149 

had been cheerfully expecting for some time. If he reads this 
history I hope he will not be too angry with me for whatever 
injustice it does to one of the altogether pleasantest compan- 
ions I have ever had. My note-books, one in particular, are 
covered with conjugations which bear witness to Mexique's 
ineffable good-nature. I also have a somewhat superficial 
portrait of his back sitting on a bench by the stove. I wish I 
had another of Mexique out in le jar din with a man who 
worked there who was a Spaniard, and whom the Surveillant 
had considerately allowed Mexique to assist; with the per- 
fectly correct idea that it would be pleasant for Mexique to 
talk to someone who could speak Spanish — if not as well as 
he, Mexique, could, at least passably well. As it is, I must 
be content to see my very good friend sitting with his hands 
in his pockets by the stove with Bill the Hollander beside 
him. And I hope it was not many days after my departure 
that Mexique went free. Somehow I feel that he went free 
. . . and if I am right, I will only say about Mexique's free- 
dom what I have heard him slowly and placidly say many 
times concerning not only the troubles which were common 
property to us all but his own peculiar troubles as well. 
"That's fine." 
Here let me introduce the Guard Champetre, whose; name 
I have already taken more or less in vain. A little sharp 
hungry-looking person who, subsequent to being a member of 
a rural police force (of which membership he seemed rather 
proud), had served his patrie — otherwise known as La Bel- 
gique — in the capacity of motorcyclist. As he carried dispatches 
from one end of the line to the other his disagreeably big eyes 
had absorbed certain peculiarly inspiring details of civilized 
warfare. He had, at one time, seen a bridge hastily con- 
structed by les allies over the Yser River, the cadavers of the 
faithful and the enemy alike being thrown in helter-skelter to 
make a much needed foundation for the timbers. This little 
procedure had considerably outraged the Guard Champetre's 
sense of decency. The Yser, said he, flowed perfectly red for 
a long time. "We were all together: Belgians, French, Eng- 

i^o The Enormous Room 

lish ... we Belgians did not see any good reason for con- 
tinuing the battle. But we continued. O indeed we con- 
tinued. Do you know why?'' 

I said that I was afraid I didn't. 

"Because in front of us we had the German shells, behind, 
the French machine guns, always the French machine guns, 
mon vieux" 

"Je ne comprends pas hien" I said in confusion, recalling all 
the highfalutin rigmarole which Americans believed — (little 
martyred Belgium protected by the allies from the inroads of 
the aggressor, etc.) — "why should the French put machine-guns 
behind you?" 

The Guard Champetre lifted his big empty eyes nervously. 
The vast hollows in which they lived darkened. His little 
rather hard face trembled within itself. I thought for a sec- 
ond he was going to throw a fit at my feet — instead of doing 
which he replied pettishly, in a sunken bright whisper : 

"To keep us going forward. At times a company would 
drop its guns and turn to run. Pupupupupupupupup . . .*' 
his short unlovely arms described gently the swinging of a 
fmtrailleuse . . . "finish. The Belgian soldiers to left and 
right of them took the hint. If they did not — pupupupupupup 
... O we went forward. Yes. Vive le pafriotisme" 

And he rose with a gesture which seemed to brush away 
these painful trifles from his memory, crossed the end of the 
room with short rapid steps, and began talking to his best 
friend Judas, who was at that moment engaged in training his 
wobbly mustachios . . . Toward the close of my visit to La 
Ferte the Guard Champetre was really happy for a period of 
two days — during which time he moved in the society of a rich, 
intelligent, mistakenly arrested and completely disagreeable 
youth in bone spectacles, copious hair and spiral puttees, with 
whom B. and I partially contented ourselves by naming Jo Jo 
The Lion Faced Boy. Had the charges against Jo Jo been 
stronger my tale would have been longer — fortunately for 
tout le monde they had no basis ; and back went Jo Jo to his 

An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 151 

native Paris, leaving the Guard Champetre with Judas and 
attacks of only occasionally interesting despair. 

The reader may suppose that it is about time another Delect- 
able Mountain appeared upon his horizon. Let him keep his 
eyes wide open, for here one comes. . . . 

Whenever our circle was about to be increased, a bell from 
somewhere afar (as a matter of fact the gate which had ad- 
mitted my weary self to La Ferte upon a memorable night, as 
already has been faithfully recounted) tanged audibly — whereat 
up jumped the more strenuous inhabitants of The Enormous 
Room and made pell-mell for the common peep-hole, situated 
at the door end or nearer end of our habitat and commanding 
a somewhat fragmentary view of the gate together with the 
arrivals, male and female, whom the bell announced. In one 
particular case the watchers appeared almost unduly excited, 
shouting "four!" — "big box" — "five gendarmes V* and other 
incoherencies with a loudness which predicted great things. As 
nearly always, I had declined to participate in the melee; and 
was still lying comfortably horizontal on my bed (thanking 
God that it had been well and thoroughly mended by a fel- 
low prisoner whom we called The Frog and Le Coiffeur — a 
tremendously keen-eyed man with a large drooping mustache, 
whose boon companion, chiefly on account of his shape and 
gait, we knew as The Lobster) when the usual noises at- 
tendant upon the unlocking of the door began with exceptional 
violence. I sat up. The door shot open, there was a moment's 
pause, a series of grunting remarks uttered by two rather 
terrible voices; then in came four nouveaux of a decidedly 
interesting appearance. They entered in two ranks of two each. 
The front rank was made up of an immensely broad shouldered 
hipless and consequently triangular man in blue trousers 
belted with a piece of ordinary ropQ. plus a thick-set ruffianly 
personage the most prominent part of whose accoutrements 
were a pair of hideous whiskers. I leaped to my feet and 
made for the door, thrilled in spite of myself. By the, in this 
case, shifty blue eyes, the pallid hair, the well-knit form of 
the rope's owner I knew instantly a Hollander. By the coarse 

152 The Enormous Room 

brutal features half-hidden in the piratical whiskers, as well as 
by the heavy mean wandering eyes. I recognized with equal 
speed a Belgian. Upon his shoulders the front rank bore a large 
box, blackish, well-made, obviously very weighty, which box it 
set down with a grunt of relief hard by the cabinet. The rear 
rank marched behind in a somewhat asymmetrical manner : a 
young stupid-looking clear-complexioned fellow (obviously a 
farmer, and having expensive black puttees and a handsome cap 
with a shiny black leather visor) slightly preceded a tall glid- 
ing thinnish unjudgable personage who peeped at everyone 
quietly and solemnly from beneath the visor of a somewhat 
large slovenly cloth cap showing portions of a lean long in- 
cognizable face upon which sat, or rather drooped, a pair of 
mlustachios identical in character with those which are some- 
times pictorially attributed to a Chinese dignitary — in other 
words, the mustachios were exquisitely narrow, homogene- 
ously downward, and made of something like black corn-silk. 
Behind les nouveaux staggered four pillasses motivated mys- 
teriously by two pair of small legs belonging (as it proved) 
to Garibaldi and the little Machine-Fixer; who, coincident 
with the tumbling of the mattresses to the floor, perspiringly 
emerged to sight 

The first thing the shifty-eyed Hollander did was to exclaim 
Gottverdummer. The first thing the whiskery Belgian did was 
to grab his paillasse and stand guard over it. The first thing 
the youth in the leggings did was to stare helplessly about him, 
murmuring something whimperingly in Polish. The first thing 
the fourth nouveau did was pay attention to anybody; light- 
ing a cigarette in an unhurried manner as he did so, and puff- 
ing silently and slowly as if in all the universe nothing what- 
ever save the taste of tobacco existed. 

A bevy of Hollanders were by this time about the triangle, 
asking him all at once Was he from so and so, What was in 
his box. How long had he been in coming, etc. Half a dozen 
stooped over the box itself, and at least three pairs of hands 
were on the point of trying the lock — when suddenly with in- 
credible agility the unperturbed smoker shot a yard forward. 

An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 153 

landing quietly beside them ; and exclaimed rapidly and briefly 
through his nose. 


He said it almost oetulantly, or as a child says "Tag ! You're 

The onlookers recoiled, completely surprised. Whereat the 
frightened youth in black puttees sidled over and explained 
with a pathetically, at once ingratiating and patronizing, ac- 

"He is not nasty. He's a good fellow. He's my friend. 
He wants to say that it's his, that box. He doesn't speak 

"It's the Gottverdiimmer Polak's box," said the Triangular 
Man exploding in Dutch. "They're a pair of Polakers; and 
this man'' (with a twist of his pale-blue eyes in the direction 
of the Bewhiskered One) "and I had to carry it all the G Oli- 
ver dummer way to this Gottverdummer place." 

All this time the incognizable nouveau was smoking slowly 
and calmly, and looking at nothing at all with his black but- 
tonlike eyes. Upon his face no faintest suggestion of ex- 
pression could be discovered by the hungry minds which fo- 
cussed unanimously upon its almost stern contours. The deep 
furrows in the cardboardlike cheeks (furrows which resem- 
bled slightly the gills of some extraordinary fish, some un- 
breathing fish) moved not an atom- The mustache drooped 
in something like mechanical tranquillity. The lips closed oc- 
casionally with a gesture at once abstracted and sensitive upon 
the lightly and carefully held cigarette; whose curling smoke 
accentuated the poise of the head, at once alert and unin- 

Monsieur Auguste broke in, speaking, as I thought, Russian 
— and in an instant he and the youth in puttees and the Un- 
knowable's cigarette and the box and the Unknowable had dis- 
appeared through the crowd in the direction of Monsieur 
Auguste's paillasse, which was also the direction of the pail- 
lasse belonging to the Cordonnier as he was sometimes called 

1^4 The Enormous Room 

— a, diminutive man with immense mustachios of his own who 
promenaded with Monsieur Auguste, speaking sometimes 
French but, as a general rule, Russian or Polish. 

Which was my first glimpse, and is the reader's, of the 
Zulu; he being one of the Delectable Mountains. For which 
reason I shall have more to say of him later, when I ascend 
the Delectable Mountains in a separate chapter or chapters; 
till when the reader must be content with the above, however 
unsatisfactory description. . . . 

One of the most utterly repulsive personages whom I have 
met in my life — perhaps (and on second thought I think cer- 
tainly) the most utterly repulsive — was shortly after this 
presented to our midst by the considerate French government. 
I refer to The Fighting Sheeney. Whether or no he arrived 
after the Spanish Whoremaster I cannot say. I remember that 
Bill the Hollander — which was the name of the triangular 
rope-belted man with shifty blue eyes (co-arrive with the 
v/hiskey Belgian ; which Belgian, by the way, from his not to 
be exaggerated brutal look, B. and myself called The Baby- 
snatcher) — upon his arrival told great tales of a Spanish 
millionaire with whom he had been in prison just previous to 
his discovery of La Ferte. ''He'll be here too in a couple o* 
days," added Bill the Hollander, who had been fourteen years 
in These United States, spoke the language to a T, talked 
about "The America Lakes," and was otherwise amazingly well 
acquainted with The Land of The Free. And sure enough, in 
less than a week one of the fattest men whom I have ever 
laid eyes on, over-dressed, much beringed and otherwise 
wealthy-looking, arrived — and was immediately played up to 
by Judas (who could smell cash almost as far as le gonverne- 
ment frangais could smell sedition) and, to my somewhat sur- 
prise, by the utterly respectable Count Bragard. But most em- 
phatically NOT by Mexique, who spent a half -hour talking 
to the nouveau in his own tongue, then drifted placidly over 
to our, beds and informed us: 

"You see dat feller over dere, dat fat feller? I speak Span- 
ish to him. He no good. Tell me he make fifty tousand franc 

An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 155 

last year runnin' whorehouse in" (I think it was) "Brest. Son 
of bitch!" 

"Dat fat feller'* lived in a perfectly huge bed which he con- 
trived to have brought up for him immediately upon his ar- 
rival. The bed arrived in a knock-down state and with it a 
mechanician from la ville, who set about putting it together, 
meanwhile indulging in many glances expressive not merely 
of interest but of amazement and even fear*. I suppose the 
bed had to be of a special size in order to accommodate the 
circular millionaire and being an extraordinary bed required 
the services of a skilled artisan — at all events, **dat fat fel- 
ler's" couch put the Skipper's altogether in the shade. As I 
watched the process of construction it occurred to me that 
after all here was the last word in luxury — to call forth from 
the metropolis not only a special divan but with it a special 
slave, the Slave of the Bed. . . . "Dat fat feller" had one of 
the prisoners perform his corvee for him. **Dat fat feller" 
bought enough at the canteen twice every day to stock a trans- 
atlantic liner for seven voyages, and never ate with the pris- 
oners. I will mention him again apropos the Mecca of respec- 
tability, the Great White Throne of purity. Three rings Three 
— alias Count Bragard, to whom I have long since introduced 
my reader. 

So we come, willy-nilly, to the Fighting Sheeney. 

The Fighting Sheeney arrived carrying the expensive suit- 
case of a livid, strangely unpleasant-looking Roumanian gent, 
who wore a knit sweater of a strangely ugly red hue, impecca- 
ble clothes, and an immaculate velour hat which must have 
been worth easily fifty francs. We called this gent Rockyfel- 
ler. His personality might be faintly indicated by the ad- 
jective Disagreeable. The porter was a creature whom Ugly 
does not even slightly describe. There are some specimens of 
humanity in whose presence one instantly an(i^ instinctively 
feels a profound revulsion, a revulsion which — perhaps be- 
cause it is profound — cannot be analyzed. The Fighting 
Sheeney was one of these specimens. His face (or to- use the 

1^6 The Enormous Room 

good American idiom, his mug) was exceedingly coarse-fea- 
tured and had an indefatigable expression of sheer brutality — 
yet the impression which it gave could not be traced to any 
particular plane or line. I can and will say, however, that 
this face was most hideous — perhaps that is the word — when 
it grinned. When The Fighting Sheeney grinned you felt that 
he desired to eat you, and was prevented from eating you only 
by a superior desire to eat everybody at once. He and Rocky- 
feller came to us from, I think it was, the Sante ; both accom- 
panied B. to Precigne. During the weeks which The Fight- 
ing Sheeney spent at La Ferte Mace, the non-existence of the 
inhabitants of The Enormous Room was rendered something 
more than miserable. It was rendered well-nigh unbearable. 

The night Rockyfeller and his slave arrived was a night to 
be remembered by everyone. It was one of the wildest and 
strangest and most perfectly interesting nights I, for one, ever 
spent. Rockyfeller had been corralled by Judas, and was en- 
joying a special bed to our right at the upper end of The 
Enormous Room. At the canteen he had purchased a large 
number of candles in addition to a great assortment of dainties 
which he and Judas were busily enjoying — when the plant on 
came up, counted us twicQ. divided by three, gave the order 
"Lumieres eteintes/' and descended, locking the door behind 
him. Everyone composed himself for miserable sleep. Every- 
one except Judas, who went on talking to Rockyfeller, and 
Rockyfeller, who proceeded to light one of his candles and 
begin a pleasant and conversational evening. The Fighting 
Sheeney lay stark-naked on a paillasse between me and his 
lord. The Fighting Sheeney told everyone that to sleep stark 
naked was to avoid bugs (whereof everybody, including my- 
self, had a goodly portion). The Fighting Sheeney was, how- 
ever, quieted by the planton*s order ; whereas Rockyfeller con- 
tinued to talk and munch to his heart's content. This began 
to get on everybody's nerves. Protests in a number of lan- 
guages arose from all parts of The Enormous Room. Rocky- 
feller gave a. contemptuous look around him and proceeded 
with his conversation. A curse emanated from the darkness. 

'An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 157 

Up sprang The Fighting Sheeney, stark naked ; strode over to 
the bed of the curser, and demanded ferociously: 

''Boxef Vousr 

The curser was apparently fast asleep, and even snoring. 
The Fighting Sheeney turned away disappointed, and had just 
reached his paillasse when he was greeted by a number of up- 
roariously discourteous remarks uttered in all sorts of tongues. 
Over he rushed, threatened, received no response, and turned 
back to his place. Once more ten or twelve voices insulted 
him from the darkness. Once more The Fighting Sheeney 
made for them, only to find sleeping innocents. Again he 
tried to go to^ bed. Again the shouts arose, this time with 
redoubled violence and in greatly increased number. The 
Fighting Sheeney was at his wits' end. He strode about chal- 
lenging everyone to fight, receiving not the slightest recogni- 
tion, cursing, reviling, threatening, bullying. The darkness 
always waited for him to resume his mattress, then burst out 
in all sorts of maledictions upon his head and the sacred head 
of his lord and master. The latter was told to put out his 
candle, go to sleep and give the rest a chance to enjoy what 
pleasure they might in forgetfulness of their woes. Where- 
upon he appealed to The Sheeney to stop this. The Sheeney 
(almost weeping) said he had done his best, that everyone 
was a pig, that nobody would fight, that it was disgusting. 
Roars of applause. Protests from the less strenuous mem- 
bers of our circle against the noise in general : Let him have 
his foutue candle, Shut up. Go to sleep yourself, etc. Rocky- 
feller kept on talking (albeit visibly annoyed by the ill-breed- 
ing of his fellow-captives) to the smooth and oily Judas. The 
noise, or rather, noises, increased. I was for some reason 
angry at Rocky feller — I think I had a curious notion that if I 
couldn't have a light after 'Humieres eteintes/' and if my very 
good friends were none of them allowed to have one, then, by 
God 1 neither should Rocky feller. At any rate, I passed a few 
remarks calculated to wither the by this time a little nervous 
tjbermench; got up, put on some enormous sabots (which I 
had purchased from a horrid little boy whom the French gov- 

1^8 The Enormous Room 

ernment had arrested with his parent, for some cause unknown 
— which horrid Httle boy told me that he had "found" the 
sabots *'in a train" oji the way to La Ferte) shook myself into 
my fur coat, and banged as noisemakingly as I knew how over 
to One-Eyed Dah-veed's paillasse, where Mexique joined us. 
"It is useless to sleep," said One-Eyed Dah-veed in French 
and Spanish. "True,'* I agreed ; "therefore, let's make all the 
noise we can." 

Steadily the racket bulged in the darkness. Human cries, 
quips and profanity had now given place to wholly inspired 
imitations of various, not to say sundry, animals. Afrique 
exclaimed — with great pleasure I recognized his voice through 
the impenetrable gloom: 

"Agahagahagahagahagah !" 
— ^perhaps, said I, he means a machine gun; it sounds like 
either that or a monkey. The Wanderer crowed beautifully. 
Monsieur Auguste's bosom friend, le Cordonnier, uttered an 
astonishing : 

"Meeee-ooooooOW !" 
which provoked a tornado of laughter and some applause. 
Mooings, chirpings, cacklings — there was a superb hen — 
neighings, he-hawing, roarings, bleatings, growlings, quack- 
ings, peepings, screamings, bellowings, and — something else, 
of course — set The Enormous Room suddenly and entirely 
alive. Never have I imagined such a menagerie as had ma- 
gically instated itself within the erstwhile soggy and dismal four 
walls of our chamber. Even such staid characters as Count 
Bragard set up a little bawling. Monsieur Pet-airs uttered a 
tiny aged crowing to my immense astonishment and delight. 
The dying, the sick, the ancient the mutilated, made their 
contributions to the common pandemonium. And then, from 
the lower left darkness, sprouted one of the very finest noises 
which ever fell on human ears — ^the noise of a little dog with 
floppy ears who was tearing after something on very short 
legs and carrying his very fuzzy tail straight up in the air as he 
tore ; a little dog who was busier than he was wise, louder than 
he was big; a red-tongued foolish breathless intent little dog 

- ' An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 159 

with black eyes and a great smile and woolly paws — which 
noise, conceived and executed by The Lobster, sent The Enor- 
mous Room into an absolute and incurable hysteria. 

The Fighting Sheeney was at a standstill. He knew not 
how to turn. At last he decided to join with the insurgents, 
and wailed brutally and dismally. That was the last straw : 
Rocky feller, who could no longer (even by shouting to Judas) 
make himself heard, gave up conversation and gazed angrily 
about him; angrily yet fearfully, as if he expected some of 
these numerous bears, lions, tigers and babboons to leap upon 
him from the darkness. His livid super-disagreeable face 
trembled with the flickering cadence of the candle. His lean 
lips clenched with mortification and wrath. ''Vous etes chef de 
chambre," he said fiercely to Judas — "why don't you make the 
men stop this? C'est enmerdant/' *'Ah," replied Judas 
smoothly and insinuatingly — "They are only men, and boors 
at that ; you can't expect them to have any manners.'' A. tre- 
mendous group of Something Elses greeted this remark to- 
gether with cries, insults, groans and linguistic trumpetings. 
I got up and walked the length of the room to the cabinet 
(situated as always by this time of night in a pool which was 
in certain places six inches deep, from which pool my sabots 
somewhat protected me) and returned, making as loud a clat- 
tering as I was able. Suddenly the voice of Monsieur Au- 
guste leaped through the din in an 

''Alors! c'est asses " 

The next thing we knew he had reached the window just 
below the cabinet (the only window, by the way, not nailed up 
with good long wire nails for the sake of warmth) and was 
shouting in a wild, high, gentle, angry voice to the sentinel 
below : 

'' Plan-ton! It is im-pos-si-ble to sleep!" 

A great cry : "Yes 1 I am coming !" floated up— every single 
noise dropped — Rockyfeller shot out his hand for the candle, 
seized it in terror, blew it out as if blowing it out were the last 
thing he would do in this life — and The Enormous Room hung 
silent ; enormously dark, enormously expectant. . . . 

i6o The Enormous Room 

BANG! Open the door. "Alors, qui m'appelle? Qii'es-ce 
qiifon a foutii ici" And the Black Holster, revolver in hand, 
flashed his torch into the inky stillness of the chamber. Be- 
hind him stood two plantons white with fear; their trembling 
hands clutching revolvers, the barrels of which shook ludic- 

''Cest moi, plan-ton T Monsieur Auguste explained that no 
one could sleep because of the noise, and that the noise was 
because "ce monsieur la" would not extinguish his candle when 
everyone wanted to sleep. The Black Holster turned to the 
room at large and roared: "You children of Merde don't let 
this happen again or Pll fix you everyone of you." — Then he 
asked if anyone wanted to dispute this assertion (he brandish- 
ing his revolver the while) and was answered by peaceful 
snorings. Then he said by X Y and Z he'd fix the noisemakers 
in the morning and fix them good — and looked for approba- 
tion to his trembling assistants. Then he swore twenty or 
thirty times for luck, turned, and thundered out on the heels 
of his fleeing confreres who almost tripped over each other in 
their haste to escape from The Enormous Room. Never have 
I seen a greater exhibition of bravery than was afforded by 
The Black Holster, revolver in hand, holding at bay the snor- 
ing and weaponless inhabitants of The Enormous Room. Vive 
les plantons. He should have been a gendarme. 

Of course Rocky feller, having copiously tipped the officials 
of La Ferte upon his arrival, received no slightest censure nor 
any hint of punishment for his deliberate breaking an estab- 
lished rule — a rule for the breaking of which anyone of the 
common scum (e. g., thank God, myself) would have got 
cahinot de suite. No indeed. Several of les hommes, how- 
ever, got pain sec — not because they had been caught in an act 
of vociferous protestation by the Black Holster, which they 
had not — ^but just on principle, as a warning to the rest of us 
and to teach us a wholesome respect for (one must assume) 
law and order. One and all, they heartily agreed that it was 
worth it. Everyone knew, of course, that the Spy had 
peached. For, by Jove, even in The Enormous Room there 

An Approach to the Delectable Mountains i6i 

was a man who earned certain privileges and acquired a com- 
plete immunity from punishment by squealing on his fellow- 
sufferers at each and every opportunity. A really ugly per- 
son, with a hard knuckling face and treacherous hands, whose 
daughter lived downstairs in a separate room apart from les 
putains (against which "dirty," "filthy," "whores" he could 
not say enough — "Hi'd rather die than 'ave my daughter with 
them stinkin' 'ores," remarked once to me this strictly moral 
man, in Cockney English) and whose daughter (aged thir- 
teen) was generally supposed to serve in a pleasurable ca- 
pacity. One did not need to be warned against the Spy (as 
both B. and I were warned, upon our arrival) — a single 
look at that phiz was enough for anyone partially either intelli- 
gent or sensitive. This phiz or mug had, then, squealed. 
Which everyone took as a matter of course and admitted 
among themselves that hanging was too good for him. 

But the vast and unutterable success achieved by the Menag- 
erie was this — Rocky feller, shortly after, left our ill-bred so- 
ciety for "Vhopital" ; the very same "hospital" whose comforts 
and seclusion Monsieur le Surveillant had so dextrously recom- 
mended to B. and myself. Rockyfeller kept The Fighting 
Sheeney in his way, in order to defend him when he went on 
promenade; otherwise our connection with him was definitely 
severed, his new companions being Muskowitz the Cock-eyed 
Millionaire, and The Belgian Song Writer^ — ^who told every- 
one to whom he spoke that he was a government official {' de 
la blague," cried the little Machine-Fixer, ^'c'est un menteur!" 
Adding that he knew of this person in Belgium and that this 
person was a man who wrote popular ditties). Would to 
Heaven we had got rid of the slave as well as the master — ^but 
unfortunately The Fighting Sheeney couldn't afford to follow 
his lord's example. So he went on making a nuisance of him- 
self, trying hard to curry favor with B. and me, getting into 
fights and bullying everyone generally. 

Also this lion-hearted personage spent one whole night 
shrieking and moaning on his paillasse after an injection by 
Monsieur Richard — for syphilis. Two or three men were, in 

1 62 The Enormous Room 

the course of a few days, discovered to have had syphilis for 
some time. They had it in their mouths. I don't remember 
them particularly, except that at least one was a Belgian. Of 
course they and The Fighting Sheeney had been using the 
common dipper and drink pail. Le gouvernement frangais 
couldn't be expected to look out for a little thing like venereal 
disease among prisoners: didn't it have enough to do curing 
those soldiers who spent their time on permission trying their 
best to infect themselves with both gonorrhea and syphilis ? 
Let not the reader suppose I am day-dreaming : let him rather 
recall that I had had the honor of being a member of Section 
Sanitaire Vingt-et-Un, which helped evacuate the venereal hos- 
pital at Ham, with whose inhabitants (in odd moments) I 
talked and walked and learned several things about la guerre. 
Let the reader — if he does not realize it already — reahze that 
This Great War for Humanity, etc., did not agree with some 
people's ideas, and that some people's ideas made them prefer 
to the glories of the front line the torments (I have heard my 
friends at Ham screaming a score of time) attendant upon 
venereal diseases. Or as one of my aforesaid friends told me 
— after discovering that I was, in contrast to les americains, 
not bent upon making France discover America but rather 
upon discovering France and les frangais myself : 
t ''Mon vieux, it's quite simple. I go on leave. I ask to go 
I to Paris, because there are prostitutes there who are totally 

I diseased. I catch syphilis, and, when possible, gonorrhea also. 

I I come back. I leave for the front line. I am sick. The hos- 
1 pital. The doctor tells me : you must not smoke or drink, then 

I you will be cured quickly. Thanks, doctor!' I drink all the 
'time and I smoke all the time and I do not get well. I stay 
five, six, seven weeks. Perhaps a few months. At last, I am 
well. I rejoin my regiment. And now it is my turn to go on 
i leave. I go. Again the same thing. It's very pretty, you 
I know." 

"^But about the syphilitics at La Ferte : they were, somewhat 
tardily to be sure, segregated in a very small and dirty room — 
for a matter of, perhaps, two weeks. And the Surveillant ac- 

An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 163 

tually saw to it that during this period they ate la soupe out of 
individual china bowls. 

I scarcely know whether The Fighting Sheeney made more 
of a nuisance of himself during his decumbiture or during the 
period which followed it — which period houses an astonishing 
number of fights, rows, bully ings, etc. He must have had a 
light case for he was cured in no time, and on everyone's back 
as usual. Well, I will leave him for the nonce ; in fact, I will 
leave him until I come to The Young Pole, who wore black 
puttees and spoke of The Zulu as ^'mon ami" — ^the Young 
Pole whose troubles I will recount in connection with the 
second Delectable Mountain Itself. I will leave the Sheeney 
with the observation that he was almost as vain as he was 
vicious; for with what ostentation, one day when we were in 
the kitchen, did he show me a post-card received that after- 
noon from Paris, whereon I read ^'Comm vous etes beau' and 
promises to send more money as fast as she earned it and, 
hoping that he had enjoyed her last present, the signature (in 
a big, adoring hand) 

"Ta mome, Alice/' 
and when I had read it — sticking his map up into my face, 
The Fighting Sheeney said with emphasis : 

"No travailler moi. Fewme travaille, fait la noce, tout le 
temps. Toujours avec officiers anglais. Gagne beaucoup, cent 
franc, deux cent franc, trots cent franc, toutes les nuits. An- 
glais riches. Femme me donne tout, Moi no travailler. Bon, 

Grateful for this little piece of information, and with his 
leer an inch from my chin, I answered slowly and calmly that 
it certainly was. I might add that he spoke Spanish by pref- 
erence (according to Mexique very bad Spanish); for The 
Fighting Sheeney had made his home for a number of years in 
Rio, and his opinion whereof may be loosely translated by the 
expressive phrase, "it's a swell town." 

A charming fellow. The Fighting Sheeney. 

Now I must tell you what happened to the poor Spanish 
Whoremaster. I have already noted the fact that Count 

164 The Enormous Room 

Bragard conceived an immediate fondness for this roly-poly 
Individual, whose belly — as he lay upon his back of a morning 
in bed — rose up with the sheets, blankets and quilts as much as 
two feet above the level of his small, stupid head studded with 
chins. I have said that this admiration on the part of the ad- 
mirable Count and R. A. for a personage of the Spanish 
Whoremaster's profession somewhat interested me. The fact 
is, a change had recently come in our own relations with Van- 
derbilt's friend. His cordiality toward B. and myself had 
considerably withered. From the time of our arrivals the 
good nobleman had showered us with favors and advice. To 
me, I may say, he was even extraordinarily kind. We talked 
painting, for example : Count Bragard folded a piece of paper, 
tore it in the center of the folded edge, unfolded it carefully, 
exhibiting a good round hole, and remarking : "Do you know 
this trick? It's an English trick, Mr. Cummings," held the 
paper before him and gazed profoundly through the circular 
aperture at an exceptionally disappointing section of the alto- 
gether gloomy landscape, visible thanks to one of the ecclesias- 
tical windows of The Enormous Room. "Just look at that, 
Mr. Cummings," he said with quiet dignity. I looked. I tried 
my best to find something to the left. "No, no, straight 
through," Count Bragard corrected me. "There's a lovely bit 
of landscape," he said sadly. "If I only had my paints here. 
I thought, you know, of asking my housekeeper to send them 
on from Paris — ^but how can you paint in a bloody place like 
this with all these bloody pigs around you? It's ridiculous to 
think of it. And it's tragic, too," he added grimly, with some- 
thing like tears in his grey, tired eyes. 

Or we were promenading The Enormous Room after supper 
— the evening promenade in the cour having been officially 
eliminated owing to the darkness and the cold of the autumn 
twilight — and through the windows the dull bloating colors of 
sunset pouring faintly ; and the Count stops dead in his tracks 
and regards the sunset without speaking for a number of sec- 
onds. Then — "it's glorious, isn't it?" he asks quietly. I say 
"Glorious indeed." He resumes his walk with a sigh, and I 

An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 165 

accompany him. "Ce n'est pas difficile a peindre, un coucher 
du soleil, it's not hard," he remarks gently. *'No ?" I say with 
deference. **Not hard a bit," the Count says, beginning to 
use his hands. "You only need three colors, you know. Very 
simple." *' Which colors are they?" I inquire ignorantly. 
"Why, you know of course," he says surprised. "Burnt 
sienna, cadmium yellow, and — er — there! I can't think of it. 
I know it as well as I know my own face. So do you. Well, 
that's stupid of me.'* 

Or, his worn eyes dwelling benignantly upon my duffle-bag, 
he warns me (in a low voice) of Prussian Blue. 

"Did you notice the portrait hanging in the bureau of the 
Surveillant ?" Count Bragard inquired one day. "That's a 
pretty piece of work, Mr. Cummings. Notice it when you get 
a chance. The green mustache, particularly fine. School of 
Cezanne." — "Really?" I said in surprise. — "Yes, indeed," 
Count Bragard said, extracting his tired-looknig hands from 
his tired-looking trousers with a cultured gesture. "Fine young 
fellow painted that. I knew him. Disciple of the master. 
Very creditable piece of work." — "Did you ever see Cezanne?" 
I ventured. — "Bless you, yes, scores of times, he answered 
almost pityingly. — "What did he look like?" I asked, with 
great curiosity. — "Look like? His appearance, you mean?" 
Count Bragard seemed at a loss. "Why he was not extraor- 
dinary looking. I don't know how you could describe him. 
Very difficult in English. But you know a phrase we have in 
French, 'Vair pesanf; I don't think there's anything in English 
for it ; il avait Vuir pesant, Cezanne, if you know what I mean. 

"I should work, I should not waste my time," the Count 
would say almost weepingly. "But it's no use, my things 
aren't here. And I'm getting old too ; couldn't concentrate in 
this stinking hole of a place, you know." 

I did some hasty drawings of Monsieur Pet-airs washing 
and rubbing his bald head with a great towel in the dawn. 
The R. A. caught me in the act and came over shortly after, 
saying, "Let me see them." In some perturbation (the sub- 
ject being a particular friend of his) I showed one drawing. 

1 66 The Enormous Room 

"Very good, in fact, excellent," the R. A. smiled whimsically. 
"You have a real talent for caricature, Mr. Cummings, and 
you should exercise it. You really got Peters. Poor Peters, 
he's a fine fellow, you know ; but this business of living in the 
muck and filth, c'est malheureux. Besides, Peters is an old 
man- It's a dirty bloody shame, that's what it is. A bloody 
shame that all of us here should be forced to live like pigs 
with this scum ! 

"I tell you what, Mr. Cummings," he said, with something 
like fierceness, his weary eyes flashing, "I'm getting out of 
here shortly, and when I do get out (I'm just waiting for my 
papers to be sent on by the English consul) I'll not forget my 
friends. We've lived together and suffered together and I'm 
not a man to forget it. This hideous mistake is nearly cleared 
up, and when I go free I'll do anything for you and your 
chum. Anything I can do for you I'd be only to glad to do 
it. If you want me to buy you paints when I'm in Paris, noth- 
ing would give me more pleasure. I know French as well as 
I know my own language" (he most certainly did) "and 
whereas you might be cheated, I'll get you everything you need 
a bon marche. Because you see they know me there, and I 
know just where to go. Just give me the money for what you 
need and I'll get you the best there is in Paris for it. You 
needn't worry" — I was protesting that it would be too much 
trouble — "my dear fellow, it's no trouble to do a favor for a 

And to B. and myself ensemble he declared, with tears in 
his eyes, "I have some marmalade at my house in Paris, real 
marmalade, not the sort of stuff you buy these days. We 
know how to make it. You can't get an idea how delicious it 
is. In big crocks" — ^the Count said simply — ^**well, that's for 
you boys." We protested that he was too kind. "Nothing of 
the sort,'' he said, with a delicate smile. "I have a son in the 
English army," and his face clouded with worry, "and we send 
him some now and then, and he's crazy about it. I know what 
it means to him. And you shall share in it too. I'll send you 
six crocks." Then, suddenly looking at us with a pleasant 

An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 167 

expression, "By Jove!" the Count said, "do you like whiskey? 
Real Bourbon whiskey? I see by your look that you know 
what it is. But you never tasted anything like this. Do you 
know London?'' I said no, as I had said once before. "Well, 
that's a pity," he said, "for if you did you'd know this bar. I 
know the barkeeper well, known him for thirty years. There's 
a picture of mine hanging in his place. Look at it when you're 
in London, drop in to Street, you'll find the place, any- 
one will tell you where it is. This fellow would do anything 
for me. And now I'll tell you what I'll do : you fellows give 
me whatever you want to spend and I'll get you the best 
whiskey you ever tasted. It's his own private stock, you un- 
derstand. I'll send it on to you — God knows you need it in 
this place. I wouldn't do this for anyone else, you under- 
stand," and he smiled kindly; "but we've been prisoners to- 
gether, and we understand each other, and that's enough for 
gentlemen. I won't forget you." He drew himself up. "I 
shall write," he said slowly and distinctly, "to Vanderbilt about 
you. I shall tell him it's a dirty bloody shame that two young 
Americans, gentlemen born, should be in this foul place. He's 
a man who's quick to act. He'll not tolerate a thing like this — 
an outrage, a bloody outrage, upon two of his own country- 
men. We shall see what happens then.'' 

It was during this period that Count Bragard lent us for 
our personal use his greatest treasure, a water glass. "I don't 
need it," he said simply and pathetically. 

Now, as I have said, a change in our relations came. 

It came at the close of one soggy, damp, raining afternoon. 
For this entire homeless grey afternoon Count Bragard and B. 
promenaded The Enormous Room. Bragard wanted the 
money — for the whiskey and the paints. The marmalade and 
the letter to Vanderbilt were, of course, gratis. Bragard was 
leaving us. Now was the time to give him money for what 
we wanted him to buy in Paris and London. I spent my time 
rushing about, falling over things, upsetting people, making 
curious and secret signs to B., which signs, being interpreted, 
meant be careful! But there was no need of telling him this 

i68 The Enormous Room 

particular thing. When the planton announced la soupe, a 
fiercely weary face strode by me en route to his mattress and 
his spoon. I knew that B. had been careful. A minute later 
he joined me, and told me as much. . . . 

On the way downstairs we ran into the Surveillant. Bra- 
gard stepped from the ranks and poured upon the Surveillant 
a torrent of French, of which the substance was : you told 
them not to give me anything. The Surveillant smiled and 
bowed and wound and unwound his hands behind his back and 
denied anything of the sort. 

It seems that B. had heard that the kindly nobleman wasn't 
going to Paris at all. 

Moreover, Monsieur Pet-airs had said to B. something about 
Count Bragard being a suspicious personage — Monsieur Pet- 
airs, the R. A.'s best friend. 

Moreover, as I have said. Count Bragard had been playing 
up to the poor Spanish Whoremaster to beat the band. Every 
day had he sat on a little stool beside the roly-poly millionaire, 
and written from dictation letter after letter in French — with 
which language the roly-poly was sadly unfamiliar. . . . And 
when next day Count Bragard took back his treasure of treas- 
ures, his personal water-glass, remarking briefly that he needed 
it once again, I was not surprised. And when, a week or so 
later, he left — I was not surprised to have Mexique come up 
to us and placidly remark: 

**I give dat feller five francs. Tell me he send me overcoat, 
very good overcoat. But say: Please no tell anybody come 
from me. Please tell everybody your family send it." And 
with a smile, "I t'ink dat feller fake." 

Nor was I surprised to see, some weeks later, the poor 
Spanish Whoremaster rending his scarce hair as he lay in 
bed of a morning. And Mexique said with a smile : 

"Dat feller give dat English feller one hundred francs. Now 
he sorry" 

All of which meant merely that Count Bragard should have 
spelt his name, not Bra-, but with an 1. 

And I wonder to this day that the only letter of mine which 

An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 169 

ever reached America and my doting family should have been 
posted by this highly entertaining personage en ville, whither 
he went as a trusted inhabitant of La Ferte to do a few neces- 
sary errands for himself ; whither he returned with a good deal 
of color in his cheeks and a good deal of vin rouge in his 
guts; going and returning with Tommy, the planton who 
brought him The Daily Mail every day until Bragard couldn't 
afford it, after which either B. and I or Jean le Negre 
took it off Tommy's hands- — Tommy, for whom we had a de- 
lightful name which I sincerely regret being unable to tell, 
Tommy, who was an Englishman for all his French planton's 
uniform and worshipped the ground on which the Count 
stood ; Tommy, who looked like a boiled lobster and had tears 
in his eyes when he escorted his idol back to captivity. . . . 
Mirabile dictu, so it was. 

Well, such was the departure of a great man from among 

And now, just to restore the reader's faith in human nature, 
let me mention an entertaining incident which occurred during 
the latter part of my stay at La Ferte Mace. Our society had 
been gladdened — or at any rate galvanized — by the biggest 
single contribution in its history; the arrival simultaneously 
of six purely extraordinary persons, whose names alone 
should be of more than general interest: The Magnifying 
Glass, the Trick Raincoat, The Messenger Boy, The Hat, The 
Alsatian, The Whitebearded Raper and His Son. In order 
to give the reader an idea of the situation created by these ar- 
rives, which situation gives the entrance of the Washing Ma- 
chine Man — ^the entertaining incident, in other words — its full 
and unique flavor, I must perforce sketch briefly each member 
of a truly imposing group. Let me say at once that, so terrible 
an impression did the members make, each inhabitant of The 
Enormous Room rushed at break-neck sj>eed to his paillasse; 
where he stood at bay, assuming as frightening an attitude as 
possible. The Enormous Room was full enough already, in 
all conscience. Between sixty and seventy mattresses, with 
their inhabitants and, in nearly every case, baggage, occupied it 

lyo The Enormous Room 

so completely as scarcely to leave room for le poele at the 
further end and the card table in the centre. No wonder we 
were struck with terror upon seeing the six nouveaux. Judas 
immediately protested to the planton who brought them up 
that there were no places, getting a roar in response and the 
door slammed in his face to boot. But the reader is not to im- 
agine that it was the number alone of the arrivals which in- 
spired fear and distrust — their appearance was enough to 
shake anyone's sanity. I do protest that never have I expe- 
rienced a feeling of more profound distrust than upon this 
occasion ; distrust of humanity in general and in particular of 
the following individuals : 

An old man shabbily dressed in a shiny frock coat, upon 
whose peering and otherwise very aged face a pair of dirty 
spectacles rested. The first thing he did, upon securing a 
place, was to sit upon his mattress in a professorial manner, 
tremulously extract a journal from his left coat pocket, trem- 
blingly produce a large magnifying glass from his upper right 
vest pocket, and forget everything. Subsequently, I discovered 
him promenading the room with an enormous expenditure of 
feeble energy, taking tiny steps flat-footedly and leaning in 
when he rounded a corner as if he were travelling at terrific 
speed. He suffered horribly from rheumatism, could scarcely 
move after a night on the floor, and must have been at least 
sixty-seven years old. 

Second, a palish, foppish, undersized, prominent-nosed crea- 
ture who affected a deep musical voice and the cut of whose 
belted raincoat gave away his profession — ^he was a pimp, and 
proud of it, and immediately upon his arrival boasted thereof, 
and manifested altogether as disagreeable a species of bully- 
ing* vanity as I ever (save in the case of The Fighting Shee- 
ney) encountered. He got his from Jean le Negre, as the 
reader will learn later. 

Third, a super- Western-Union-Messenger type of ancient- 
youth, extraordinarily unhandsome if not positively ugly. He 
had a weak pimply grey face, was clad in a brownish uniform, 
puttees (on pipestem calves), and a regular Messenger Boy 

An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 171 

cap. Upon securing a place he instantly went to the card- 
table, seated himself hurriedly, pulled out a batch of blanks, 
and wrote a telegram to (I suppose) himself. Then he re- 
turned to his paillasse, lay down with apparently supreme con- 
tentment, and fell asleep. 

Fourth, a tiny old man who looked like a caricature of an 
East Side second-hand clothes dealer — having a long beard, 
a long worn and dirty coat reaching just to his ankles, and a 
small derby hat on his head. The very first night his imme- 
diate neighbor complained that "Le Chapeau" (as he was 
christened by The Zulu) was guilty of fleas. A great tempest 
ensued immediately. A planton was hastily summoned. He 
arrived, heard the case, inspected The Hat (who lay on his 
paillasse with his derby on, his hand far down the neck of his 
shirt, scratching busily and protesting occasionally his entire 
innocence), uttered (being the Black Holster)" an oath of dis- 
gust, and ordered The Frog to "couper les cheveux de suite et 
la harhe aussi; apres it va au hain, l& vieuxf* The Frog ap- 
proached and gently requested The Hat to seat himself upon 
a chair — the better of two chairs boasted by The Enormous 
Room. The Frog, successor to The Barber, brandished his 
scissors. The Hat lay and scratched. "AUes, Norn de Dieu/' 
the planton roared. The poor Hat arose trembling, assumed a 
praying attitude; and began to talk in a thick and sudden 
manner. "Asseyes-vous Ih, fete de cochon." The pitiful Hnt 
obeyed, clutching his derby to his head in both withered hands. 
"Take off your hat, you son of a bitch," the planton yelled. 
'T don't want to," the tragic Hat whimpered. BANG! the 
derby hit the floor, bounded upward and lay still. "Proceed." 
the orderly thundered to The Frog, who regarded him with a 
perfectly inscrutable expression on his extremely keen face, 
then turned to his subject, snickered with the scissors, and fell 
to. Locks ear-long fell in crisp succession.'^ Pete the Shadow, 
standing beside the barber, nudged me; and I looked; and I 
beheld upon the floor the shorn locks rising and curling with a 
movement of their own. . . . "Now for the beard," said the 
Black Holster. — "No, no. Monsieur, s'il vous plait, pas ma 

172 The Enormous Room 

barbe, monsieur'' — the Hat wept, trying to kneel. — 'Ta gueule 
or I'll cut your throat," the planton replied amiably ; and The 
Frog, after another look, obeyed. And lo, the beard squirmed 
gently upon the floor, alive with a rhythm of its own; 
squirmed and curled crisply as it lay. . . . When The Hat was 
utterly shorn, he was bathed and became comparatively un- 
remarkable, save for the worn long coat which he clutched 
about him, shivering. And he borrowed five francs from me 
twice, and paid me punctually each time when his own money 
arrived, and presented me with chocolate into the bargain, 
tipping his hat quickly and bowing (as he always did whenever 
he addressed anyone) . Poor Old Hat, B. and I and the Zulu 
were the only men at La Ferte who liked you. 

Fifth, a fat, jolly, decently dressed man. — He had been to a 
camp where everyone danced, because an entire ship's crew 
was interned there, and the crew were enormously musical, and 
the captain (having sold his ship) was rich and tipped the 
Director regularly ; so everyone danced night and day, and the 
crew played, for the crew had brought their music with them. 
— He had a way of borrowing the paper (Le Matin) which 
we bought from one of the lesser plant ons who went to the 
town and got Le Matin there; borrowing it before we had 
read it — ^by the sunset. And his favorite observations were: 

"It's a rotten country. Dirty weather." 

Fifth and sixth, a vacillating, staggering, decrepit creature 
with wildish white beard and eyes, who had been arrested — 
incredibly enough — for "rape." With him his son, a pleasant 
youth quiet of demeanor, inquisitive of nature, with whom we 
sometimes conversed on the subject of the English army. 

Such were the individuals whose concerted arrival taxed to 
its utmost the capacity of The Enormous Room. And now 
for my incident : 

In the doorway, one day shortly after the arrival of the 
gentlemen mentioned, quietly stood a well-dressed handsomely 
middle-aged man, with a sensitive face culminating in a 
groomed Van Dyck beard. I thought for a moment that the 
Mayor of Orne, or whatever his title is, had dropped in for an 

An Approach to the Delectable Mountains 173 

informal inspection of The Enormous Room. Thank God, I 
said to myself, it has never looked so chaotically filthy since I 
have had the joy of inhabiting it. And sans blague, the 
Enormous Room was in a state of really supreme disorder; 
shirts were thrown everywhere, a few twine clothes lines sup- 
ported various pants, handkerchiefs and stockings, the stove 
was surrounded by a gesticulating group of nearly undressed 
prisoners, the stink was actually sublime. 

As the door closed behind him, the handsome man moved 
slowly and vigorously up The Enormous Room. His eyes 
were as big as turnips. His neat felt hat rose with the ris- 
ing of his hair. His mouth opened in a gesture of unutterable 
astonishment. His knees trembled with surprise and terror, 
the creases of his trousers quivering. His hands lifted them- 
selves slowly outward and upward till they reached the level 
of his head; moved inward till they grasped his head: and 
were motionless. In a deep awe-struck resonant voice he ex- 
claimed simply and sincerely : ' 

"Nom de nom de nom de nom de nom de DIEUI" 

Which introduces the reader to The Washing Machine Man, 
a Hollander, owner of a store at Brest where he sold the 
highly utiles contrivances which gave him his name. He, as 
I remember, had been charged with aiding and abetting in the 
case of escaping deserters — ^but I know a better reason for his 
arrest : undoubtedly le gouvernement frangais caught him one 
day in the act of inventing a super- washing machine, in fact, 
a Whitewashing machine, for the private use of the Kaiser 
and His Family. . . . 

Which brings us, if you please, to the first Delectable Moun- 



One day somebody and I were "catching water" for Mon- 
sieur the Chef. 

"Catching water" was ordinarily a mixed pleasure. It con- 
sisted, as I have mentioned, in the combined pushing and pull- 
ing of a curiously primitive two-wheeled cart over a distance 
of perhaps three hundred yards to a kind of hydrant situated 
in a species of square upon which the mediaeval structure 
known as Porte (or Camp) de Triage faced stupidly and 
threateningly. A planton always escorted the catchers through 
a big door, between the stone wall, which backed the men's 
cour and the end of the building itself, or, in other words, the 
canteen. The ten-foot stone wall was, like every other stone 
wall, connected with La Ferte, topped with three feet of 
barbed wire. The door by which we exited with the water- 
wagon to the street outside was at least eight feet high, 
adorned with several large locks. One pushing behind, one 
pulling in the shafts, we rushed the wagon over a sort of 
threshold or sill and into the street; and were immediately 
yelled at by the planton, who commanded us to stop until he 
had locked the door. We waited until told to proceed; then 
yanked and shoved the reeling vehicle up the street to our 
right, that is to say, along the wall of the building, but on 
the outside. All this was pleasant and astonishing. To feel 
oneself, however temporarily, outside the eternal walls in a 
street connected with a rather selfish and placid looking little 
town (whereof not more than a dozen houses were visible) 
gave the prisoner an at once silly and uncanny sensation, much 


The Wanderer 175: 

like the sensation one must get when he starts to skate for the 
first time in a dozen years or so. The street met two others 
in a moment, and here was a very flourishing sumach bush (as 
I guess) whose berries shocked the stunned eye with a savage 
splash of vermilion. Under this color one discovered the 
Mecca of water-catchers in the form of an iron contrivance 
operating by means of a stubby lever which, when pressed 
down, yielded grudgingly a spout of whiteness. The contri- 
vance was placed in sufficiently close proximity to a low wall 
so that one of the catchers might conveniently sit on the wall 
and keep the water spouting with a continuous pressure of his 
foot, while the other catcher manipulated a tin pail with tell- 
ing effect. Having filled the barrel which rode on the two 
wagon wheels, we turned it with some difficulty and started it 
down the street with the tin pail on top ; the man in the shafts 
leaning back with all his might to offset a certain velocity pro- 
moted by the down grade, while the man behind tugged help- 
ingly at the barrel itself. On reaching the door we skewed 
the machine skillfully to the left, thereby bringing it to a com- 
plete standstill, and waited for the planton to unlock the locks ; 
which done, we rushed it violently over the threshold, turned 
left, still running, and came to a final stop in front of the 
kitchen. Here stood three enormous wooden tubs. We backed 
the wagon around ; then one man opened a spigot in the rear 
of the barrel, and at the same time the other elevated the shafts 
in a clever manner, inducing the jet d'eau to hit one of the 
tubs. One tub filled, we switched the stream wittily to the 
next. To fill the three tubs (they were not always all of them 
empty) required as many as six or eight delightful trips. After 
which one entered the cuisine and got his well-earned reward-^ 
coffee with sugar. 

I have remarked that catching water was a mixed pleasure. 
The mixedness of the pleasure came from certainly highly re- 
spectable citizens, and more often citizenesses, of la mile de 
La Ferte Mace ; who had a habit of endowing the poor water- 
catchers with looks which I should not like to remember too 
well, at the same moment clutching whatever infants they car- 

176 The Enormous Room 

ried or wore or had on leash spasmodically to them. I never 
ceased to be surprised by the scorn, contempt, disgust and fre- 
quently sheer ferocity manifested in the male and particularly 
in the female faces. All the ladies wore, of course, black; 
they were wholly unbeautiful of face or form, some of them 
actually repellant; not one should I, even under more favor- 
able circumstances, have enjoyed meeting. The first time I 
caught water everybody in the town was returning from 
church, and a terrific sight it was. Vive la bourgeoisie, I said 
to myself, ducking the shafts of censure by the simple means 
of hiding my face behind the moving water barrel. 

But one day — as I started to inform the reader — somebody 
and I were catching water, and, in fact, had caught our last 
load, and were returning with it down the street ; when I, who 
was striding rapidly behind trying to lessen with both hands 
the impetus of the machine, suddenly tripped and almost fell 
with surprise 

On the curb of the little unbeautiful street a figure was sit- 
ting, a female figure dressed in utterly barbaric pinks and ver- 
milions, having a dark shawl thrown about her shoulders; a 
positively Arabian face delimited by a bright coif of some 
tenuous stuff, slender golden hands holding with extraordinary 
delicacy what appeared to be a baby of not more than three 
months old; and beside her a black-haired child of perhaps 
three years and beside this child a girl of fourteen, dressed 
like the woman in crashing hues, with the most exquisite face 
I had ever known. 

Nom de dieu, I thought vaguely. Am I or am I not com- 
pletely asleep? And the man in the shafts craned his neck in 
stupid amazement, and the planton twirled his mustache and 
assumed that intrepid look which only a planton (or a gen- 
darme) perfectly knows how to assume in the presence of 
female beauty. 

That night The Wanderer was absent from la soupe, having 
been called by Apollyon to the latter 's office upon a matter of 
superior import. Everyone was abuzz with the news. The 
gypsy's wife and three children, one a baby at the breast, were 

The Wanderer 177 

outside demanding to be made prisoners. Would the Direc- 
teur allow it;? They had been told a number of times by 
plantons to go away, as they sat patiently waiting to be ad- 
mitted to captivity. No threats, pleas nor arguments had 
availed. The wife said she was tired of living without her 
husband — roars of laughter from all the Belgians and most of 
the Hollanders, I regret to say Pete included — ^and wanted 
merely and simply to share his confinement. Moreover, she 
said, without him she was unable to support his children ! and 
it was better that they should grow up with their father as 
prisoners than starve to death without him. She would not 
be moved. The Black Holster told her he would use force — 
she answered nothing. Finally she had been admitted pending 
judgment. Also sprach, highly excited, the halayeur. 

*'Looks like a — ^hoor,'' was the Belgian-Dutch verdict, a ver- 
dict which was obviously due to the costume of the lady in 
question almost as much as to the untemperamental natures 
sojourning at La Ferte. B. and I agreed that she and her 
children were the most beautiful people we had ever seen, or 
would ever be likely to see. So la soupe ended, and every- 
body belched and gasped and trumpeted up to The Enormous 
Room as usual. 

That evening, about six o'clock, I heard a man trying as if 
his heart were broken. I crossed The Enormous Room. Half- 
lying on his paillasse, his great beard pouring upon his breast, 
his face lowered, his entire body shuddering with sobs, lay 
The Wanderer. Several of the men were about him, standing 
in attitudes ranging from semi-amusement to stupid sympa- 
thy, listening to the anguish which — as from time to time he 
lifted his majestic head — poured slowly and brokenly from his 
lips. I sat down beside him. And he told me : "I bought him 
for six hundred francs, and I sold him for four hundred and 
fifty ... it was not a horse of this race, but of the race" (T 
could not catch the word) "as long as from here to that post. 
I cried for a quarter of an hour just as if my child were 
dead . . . and it is seldom T weep over horses — I say: you 
are going, Jewel, au r'oir et bon jour." . . . 

178 The Enormous Room 

The vain little dancer interrupted about "broken-down 
horses" . . . ''Excuses done — ^this was no disabled horse, such 
as goes to the front — ^these are some horses — pardon, whom 
you give eat, this, it is colie, that, the other, it's colie — this 
never — he could go forty kilometres a day. . . .'' 

One of the strongest men I have seen in my life is crying 
because he has had to sell his favorite horse. No wonder les 
hommes in general are not interested. Someone said : "Be of 
good cheer, Demestre, your wife and kids are well enough." 

"Yes — ^they are not cold; they have a bed like that" (a high 
gesture toward the quilt of many colors on which we were 
sitting, such a quilt as I have not seen since ; a feathery deep- 
ness soft to the touch as air in Spring, "which is w^orth three 
times this of mine — ^but Hi comprends, it's not hot these morn- 
ings" — then he dropped his head, and lifted it again, crying, 

"Et mes outils, I had many — and my garments — ^where are 
they put, ou — ouf Kis! And I had chemises . . . this is 
poor" (looking at himself as a prince might look at his dis- 
guise) — "and like this, that — where? 

"Si the wagon is not sold ... I never will stay here for 
la duree de la guerre. No — ^bahsht! To resume, that is why 
I need. ..." 

(more than upright in the priceless bed — the twice stream- 
ing darkness of his beard, his hoarse sweetness of voice — his 
immense perfect face and deeply softnesses eyes — pouring 

"my wife sat over there, she spoke to No one and bothered 
Nobody — why was my wife taken here and shut up? Had she 
done anything? There is a wife who fait la pufain and turns, 
to everyone and another, whom T bring another tomorrow 
. . . but a woman who loves only her husband, who waits for 
no one but her husband " 

(the tone bulged, and the eyes together) 

" Ces cigarettes ne fument pas!" I added an apology, 

having presented him with the package. "Why do you shell 
out these? They cost fifteen sous, you may spend for them 

The Wanderer 179 

if you like, you understand what Tm saying? But some time 
when you have nothing" (extraordinary gently) "what then? 
Better to save for that day . . . better to buy du tabac and 
fcdre yourself; these are made of tobacco dust." 

And there was someone to the right who was saying : "To- 
morrow is Sunday" . . . wearily. The King, lying upon his 
huge quilt, sobbing now only a little, heard : 

"So — ah — he was born on a Sunday — my wife is nursing 
him, she gives him the breast" (the gesture charmed) "she 
said to them she would not eat if they gave her that — that's 
not worth anything — meat is necessary every day . . ."he 
mused. I tried to go. 

"Sit there" (graciousness of complete gesture. The sheer 
kingliness of poverty. He creased the indescribably soft cou- 
verture for me and I sat and looked into his forehead bounded 
by the cube of square sliced hair. Blacker than Africa. Than 

After this evening I felt that possibly I knew a little of The 
Wanderer, or he of me. 

The Wanderer's wife and his two daughters and his baby 
lived in the women's quarters. I have not described and can- 
not describe these four. The little son of whom he was tre- 
mendously proud slept with his father in the great quilts in 
The Enormous Room. Of The Wanderer's little son I may 
say that he had lolling buttons of eyes sewed on gold flesh, 
that he had a habit of turning cart-wheels in one- third of his 
father's trousers, that we called him The Imp. He ran, he 
teased, he turned handsprings, he got in the way, and he 
even climbed the largest of the scraggly trees in the cour one 
day. "You will fall," Monsieur Peters (whose old eyes had a 
fondness for this irrepressible creature) remarked with con- 
viction. — "Let him climb," his father said quietly. "I have 
climbed trees. I have fallen out of trees. I am alive." The 
Imp shinnied like a monkey, shouting and crowing, up a lean 
gnarled limb— to the amazement of the very plant on who later 
tried to rape Celina and was caught. This planton put his 
gun in readiness and assumed an eager attitude of immutable 

i8o The Enormous Room 

heroism. "Will you shoot?" the father inquired politely. "In- 
deed it would be a big thing of which you might boast all your 
life : I, a planton, shot and killed a six-year-old child in a 
tree." — ^'Cesf enmerdant" the planton countered, in some 
confusion — "he may be trying to escape. How do I know?" 
— "Indeed, how do you know anything?" the father mur- 
mured quietly. "It's a mystere." The Imp, all at once, fell. 
He hit the muddy ground with a disagreeable thud. The 
breath was utterly knocked out of him. The Wanderer picked 
him up kindly. His son began, with the catching of his 

breath, to howl uproariously. "Serves him right, the 

jackanapes," a Belgian growled. — "I told you so, didn't I?" 
Monsieur Pet-airs worryingly cried : "I said he would fall out 
of that tree !'' — "Pardon, you were right, I think," the father 
smiled pleasantly. "Don't be sad, my little son, everybody 
falls out of trees, they're made for that by God," .and he 
patted The Imp, squatting in the mud and smiling. In five 
minutes The Imp was trying to scale the shed- "Come down 
or I fire," the planton cried nervously . . . and so it was with 
The Wanderer's son from morning till night. "Never," said 
Monsieur Pet-airs with solemn desperation, "have I seen such 
an incorrigible child, a perfectly incorrigible child," and he 
shook his head and immediately dodged a missile which had 
suddenly appeared from nowhere. 

Night after night The Imp would play around our beds, 
where we held court with our chocolate and our candle; teas- 
ing us, cajoling us, flattering \\s, pretending tears, feigning in- 
sult, getting lectures from Monsieur Peters on the evil of 
cigarette smokinsf, keeping us in a state of perpetual inquietude. 
When he couldn't think of anything else to do he sang at the 
top of his clear bright voice: 

''Cest la querre 
faut pas fen faire" 

and turned a handspring or two for emphasis. . . . Mexique 
once cuflfed him for doing something peculiarly mischievous, 
and he set up a great crying—dnstantly The Wanderer was 

The Wanderer i8i 

standing over Mexique, his hands clenched, his eyes sparkling 
— it took a good deal of persuasion to convice the parent that 
his son was in error, meanwhile Mexique placidly awaited his 
end . . . and neither B. nor I, despite the Imp's tormentings, 
could keep from laughing when he all at once with a sort of 
crowing cry rushed for the nearest post, jumped upon his 
hands, arched his back, and poised head-downward; his feet 
just touching the pillar. Bare- footed, in a bright chemise 
and one-third of his father's trousers. . . . 

Being now in a class with "les hommes maries'' The Wan- 
derer spent most of the day downstairs, coming up with his 
little son every night to sleep in The Enormous Room. But 
we saw him occasionally in the cour; and every other day 
when the dreadful cry was raised 

''Alles, tout-le-monde, 'plicher les pommesl" 
and we descended, in fair weather, to the lane between the 
building and the cour, and in foul (very foul I should say) 
the dynosaur-coloured sweating walls of the dining-room — The 
Wanderer would quietly and slowly appear, along with the 
other hommes maries, and take up the peeling of the amazingly 
cold potatoes which formed the piece de resistance (in guise 
of Soupe) for both women and men at La Ferte. And if the 
wedded males did not all of them show up for this unagree- 
able task, a dreadful hullabaloo was instantly raised — 

and forth would more or less sheepishly issue the delinquents. 

And I think The Wanderer, with his wife and children 
whom he loved as never have I seen a man love anything in 
this world, was partly happy ; walking in the sun when there 
was any, sleeping with his little boy in a great gulp of soft- 
ness. And I remember him pulling his fine beard into two 
darknesses — huge-sleeved, pink-checked chemise — walking 
kindly like a bear — corduroy bigness of trousers, waistline 
always amorous of knees — finger-ends just catching tops of 
enormous pockets. When he feels, as I think, partly happy, he 
corrects our pronunciation of the ineflFable Word — saying 

"O, May-err-DEr 

1 82 The Enormous Room 

and smiles. And once Jean Le TTegre said to him as he 
squatted in the cour with his Httle son beside him, his broad 
strong back as nearly! always against one of the gruesome and 
minute pommiers — 

''Barbu! j'vais couper ta barbe, harhu!'* Whereat the father, 
answered slowly and seriously. 

"When you cut my beard you will have to cut off my head" 
regarding Jean le Negre with unspeakably sensitive, tremend- 
ously deep, peculiarly soft eyes. "My beard is finer than that ; 
you have made it too coarse," he gently remarked one day, 
looking attentively at a piece of photographie which I had 
been caught in the act of perpetrating: whereat I bowed my 
head in silent shame. 

"Demestre, Josef (femme, nee Feliska)'' I read another 
day in the Gestionnaire^s book of judgment. O Monsieur le 
Gestionnaire, I should not have liked to have seen those names 
in my book of sinners, in my album of filth and blood and in- 
continence, had I been you . . . O little, very little, gouverne- 
ment frangais, and you, the great and comfortable messieurs 
of the world, tell me why you have put a gypsy who dresses 
like Tomorrow among the squabbling pimps and thieves of 
yesterday. . . . 

He had been in New York one day. 

One child died at sea. 

"Les landes" he cried, towering over The Enormous Room 
suddenly one night in Autumn, ^'je les connais commes ma 
pochc — Bordeaux? Je sms oH que (fest. Madrid? Je sais 
oit que c'est. Tolede? Seville? Naples? Je sais ott que 
c'est. Je les connais comme ma poche" 

He could not read. "Tell me what it tells," he said briefly 
and without annoyance, when once I ofiFered him the journal. 
And I took pleasure in trying to do so. 

One fine day, perhaps the finest day, I looked from a 
window of The Enormous Room and saw (in the same spot 
that Lena had enjoyed her half -hour promenade during con- 
finement in the cabinot, as related) the wife of The Wanderer, 
*'nee Feliska," giving his baby a bath in a pail, while The 

The Wanderer 183 

Wanderer sat in the sun smoking. About the pail an absorbed 
group of putcUns stood. Several plantons (abandoning for one 
instant their plan tonic demeanor) leaned upon their guns and 
watched. Some even smiled a little. And the mother, holding 
the brownish naked crowing child tenderly, was swimming it 
quietly to and fro, to the delight of Celina in particular. To 
Celina it waved its arms greetingly. She stooped and spoke 
to it. The mother smiled. The Wanderer, looking from time 
to time at his wife, smoked and pondered by himself in the 

This baby was the delight of the putains at all times. They 
used to take turns carrying it when on promenade. The Wan- 
derer's wife, at such moments, regarded them with a gentle 
and jealous weariness. 

There were two girls, as I said. One, the littlest girl I ever 
saw walk and act by herself, looked exactly like a golly wog. 
This was because of the huge mop of black hair. She was 
very pretty. She used to sit with her mother and move her 
toes quietly for her own private amusement. The older sister 
was as divine a creature as God in His skillful and infinite 
wisdom ever created. Her intensely sexual face greeted us 
nearly always as we descended pour la soupe. She would come 
up to B. and me slenderly and ask, with the brightest and 
darkest eyes in the world, 

*'Chocolat, M'sieu" 
and we would present her with a big or small, as the case 
might be, morceau de chocolat. We even called her Chocolat. 
Her skin was nearly sheer gold ; her fingers and feet delicately 
formed: her teeth wonderfully white; her hair incomparably 
black and abundant. Her lips would have seduced, I think, le 
gouvernemenf frangais itself. Or any saint. 

Well. . . . 

Le gouvernement frcmgais decided in its infinite but unskil- 
ful wisdom that The Wanderer, being an inexpressibly bad 
man (guilty of who knows what gentleness, strength and 
beauty) should suflFer as much as he was capable of suffering. 
In other words, it decided (through its Three Wise Men, who 

184 THe Enormous Room 

formed the visiting Commission whereof I speak anon) that 
the wife, her baby, her two girls, and her little son should be 
separated from the husband by miles and by stone-walls and 
by barbed wire and by Law. Or perhaps (there was a rumour 
to this effect) The Three Wise Men discovered that the father 
of these incredibly exquisite children was not her lawful hus- 
band. And of course, this being the case, the utterly and in- 
comparably moral French government saw its duty plainly; 
which duty was to inflict the ultimate anguish of separation 
upon the sinners concerned. I know The Wanderer came from 
la commission with tears of anger in his great eyes. I know 
that some days later he, along with that deadly and poisonous 
criminal Monsieur Auguste and that aged archtraitor Monsieur 
Pet-airs, and that incomparably wicked person Surplice, and a 
ragged gentle being who one day presented us with a broken 
spoon which he had found somewhere — ^the gift being a purely 
spontaneous mark of approval and affection — who for this rea- 
son was known as The Spoonman and the vast and immeasur- 
able honour of departing for Precigne pour la duree de la 
guerre. If ever I can create by some occult process of imag- 
ining a deed so perfectly cruel as the deed perpetrated in the 
case of Joseph Demestre, I shall consider myself a genius. 
Then let us admit that the Three Wise Men were geniuses. 
And let us, also and softly, admit that it takes a good and great 
government perfectly to negate mercy. And let us, bowing 
our minds smoothly and darkly, repeat with Monsieur le 
Curee — "toujous Venfer . . . 

The Wanderer was almost insane when he heard the judg- 
ment oi la commission. And hereupon I must pay my respects 
to Monsieur Pet-airs ; whom I had ever liked, but whose spirit 
I had not, up to the night preceding The Wanderer's departure, 
fully appreciated. Monsieur Pet-airs sat for hours at the card- 
table, his glasses continually fogging, censuring The Wan- 
derer in tones of apparent annoyance for his frightful weep- 
ing (and now and then himself sniffing faintly with his big red 
nose) ; sat for hours pretending to take dictation from Joseph 
Demestre, in reality composing a great letter or series of 

The Wanderer 185 

great letters to the civil and I guess military authorities of Orne 
on the subject of the injustice done to the father of four chil- 
dren, one a baby at the breast, now about to be separated from 
all he held dear and good in this world. "I appeal" (Monsieur 
Pet-airs wrote in his boisterously careful, not to say elegant, 
script) "to your sense of mercy and of fair play and of honor. 
It is not merely an unjust thing which is being done, not merely 
an unreasonable thing, it is an unnatural thing. . . ." As he 
wrote I found it hard to believe that this was the aged and 
decrepit and fussing biped whom I had known, whom 
I had caricatured, with whom I had talked upon 
ponderous subjects (a comparison between the Belgian 
and French cities with respect to their location as 
favouring progress and prosperity, for example) ; who had 
with a certain comic shyness revealed to me a secret scheme for 
reclaiming inundated territories by means of an extraordinary 
pump "of my invention.'' Yet this was he, this was Monsieur 
Pet-airs Lui-Meme ; and I enjoyed peculiarly making his com- 
plete acquaintance for the first and only time. 

May the Heavens prosper him! 

The next day The Wanderer appeared in the cour walking 
proudly in a shirt of solid vermilion. 

He kissed his wife — excuse me. Monsieur Malvy, I should 
say the mother of his children — crying very bitterly and sud- 

The plantons yelled for him to line up with the rest, who 
were waiting outside the gate, bag and baggage. He covered 
his great king's eyes with his long golden hands and went. 

With him disappeared unspeakable sunlight, and the dark 
keen bright strength of the earth. 



This is the name of the second Delectable Mountain. 

Zulu is he called, partly because he looks like what I have 
never seen, partly because the sounds somehow relate to his 
personality and partly because they seemed to please him. 

He is, of all the indescribables I have known, definitely the 
most completely or entirely indescribable. Then (quoth my 
reader) you will not attempt to describe him, I trust.- — Alas, 
in the medium which I am now using a certain amount or at 
least quality of description is disgustingly necessary. Were I 
free with a canvas and some colours . . . but I am not free. 
And so I will buck the impossible to the best of my ability. 
Which, after all, is one way of wasting your time. 

He did not come and he did not go. He drifted. 

His angular anatomy expended and collected itself with an 
effortless spontaneity which is the prerogative of fairies per- 
haps, or at any rate of those things in which we no longer 
believe. But he was more. There are certain things in which 
one is unable to believe for the simple reason that he never 
ceases to feel them. Things of this sort — ^things which are 
always inside of us and, in fact, are us and which consequently 
will not be pushed off or away where we can begin thinking 
about them^ — are no longer things ; they, and the us which 
they are, equals A Verb; an IS. The Zulu, then, I must per- 
force call an IS. 

In this chapter I shall pretend briefly to describe certain 
aspects and attributes of an IS. Which IS we have called The 
Zulu, who Himself intrinsically and indubitably escapes analy- 
sis. Allans! 


Zoo-Loo 187 

Let me first describe a Sunday morning when we lifted our 
heads to the fight of the stove-pipes. 

I was awakened by a roar, a human roar, a roar such as 
only a Hollander can make when a Hollander is honestly 
angry. As I rose from the domain of the subconscious, the 
idea that the roar belonged to Bill The Hollander became con- 
viction. Bill The Hollander, alias America Lakes, slept next 
to The Young Pole (by whom I refer to that young stupid- 
looking farmer with that peaches-and-cream complexion and 
those black puttees who had formed the rear rank, with the 
aid of The Zulu Himself, upon the arrival of Babysnatcher, 
Bill, Box, Zulu, and Young Pole aforesaid). Now this same 
Young Pole was a case. Insufferably vain and self-confident was 
he. Monsieur Auguste palliated most of his conceited offensive- 
ness on the ground that he was un gar g on; we on the groimd 
that he was obviously and unmistakably The Zulu's friend. 
This Young Pole, I remember, had me design upon the wall 
over his paillasse (shortly after his arrival) a virile soldat 
clutching a somewhat dubious flag — I made the latter from de- 
scriptions furnished by Monsieur Auguste and The Young Pole 
himself — intended, I may add, to be the flag of Poland. Under- 
neath which beautiful picture I was instructed to perpetrate the 
flourishing inscription 

''Vive la Pologne^' 
which I did to the best of my limited ability ^nd for Monsieur 
Auguste's sake. No sooner was the photographie complete 
than The Young Pole, patriotically elated, set out to demon- 
strate the superiority of his race and nation by making him- 
self obnoxious. I will give him this credit: he was pas 
mechant, he was, in fact, a stupid boy. The Fighting Sheeney 
temporarily took him down a peg by flooring him in the nightly 
''Boxe" which The Fighting Sheeney instituted immediately 
upon the arrival of The Trick Raincoat — a previous acquaint- 
ance of The Sheeney's at La Sante ; the similarity of occupa- 
tions (or non-occupation; I refer to the profession of pimp) 
having cemented a friendship between these two. But, for all 
that The Young Pole's Sunday-best clothes were covered with 

1 88 The Enormous Room 

filth, and for all that his polished puttees were soiled and 
scratched by the splintery floor of The Enormous Room (he 
having rolled well off the blanket upon which the wrestling was 
supposed to occur), his spirit was dashed but for the moment. 
He set about cleaning and polishing himself, combing his hair, 
smoothing his cap — and was as cocky as ever next morning. 
In fact I think he was cockier ; for he took to guying Bill The 
Hollander in French, with which tongue Bill was only faintly 
familiar and of which, consequently, he was doubly suspicious. 
As The Young Pole lay in bed of an evening after lumieres 
eteintes, he would guy his somewhat massive neighbor in a 
childish almost girlish voice, shouting with laughter when The 
Triangle rose on one arm and volleyed Dutch at him, pausing 
whenever The Triangle's good-nature threatened to approach 
the breaking point, resuming after a minute or two when The 
Triangle appeared to be on the point of falling into the arms 
of Morpheus. This sort of blague had gone on for sev- 
eral nights without dangerous results. It was, however, in- 
evitable that sooner or later something would happen — and as 
we lifted our heads on this particular Sunday morn we were 
not surprised to see The Hollander himself standing over The 
Young Pole, with clenched paws, wringing shoulders, and an 
apocalyptic face whiter than Death's horse. 

The Young Pole seemed incapable of realizing that the 
climax had come. He lay on his back, cringing a little and 
laughing foolishly. The Zulu (who slept next to him on our 
side had, apparently, just lighted a cigarette which projected 
upward from a slender holder. The Zulu's face was as always 
absolutely expressionless. His chin, with a goodly growth of 
beard, protruded tranquilly from the blanket which concealed 
the rest of him with the exception of his feet — feet which were 
ensconced in large, somewhat clumsy, leather boots. As The 
Zulu wore no socks, the Xs of the rawhide lacings on his bare 
flesh (blue, of course, with cold) presented a rather fascinat- 
ing design. The Zulu was, to all intents and purposes, gazing 
at the ceiling. . . . 

Bill The Hollander, clad only in his shirt, his long lean 

Zoo-Loo 189 

muscled legs planted far apart, shook one fist after another 
at the recumbent Young Pole, thundering (curiously enough in 
English) : 

"Come on you Gottverdummer son-of-a-bitch of a Polak 
bastard and fight ! Get up out o' there you Polak hoor and I'll 
kill you, you Gottverdummer bastard you ! I stood enough o' 
your Gottverdummer nonsense you Gottverdummer" etc. 

As Bill The Hollander's thunder crescendoed steadily, cram- 
ming the utmost corners of The Enormous Room with Gott- 
verdummers which echoingly telescoped one another, producing 
a dim huge shaggy mass of vocal anger, The Young Pole 
began to laugh less and less; began to plead and excuse and 
palliate and demonstrate — and all the while the triangular 
tower in its naked legs and its palpitating chemise brandished 
its vast fists nearer and nearer, its ghastly yellow lips hurling 
cumulative volumes of rhythmic profanity, its blue eyes snap- 
ping like fire-crackers, its enormous hairy chest heaving and 
tumbling like a monstrous hunk of sea- weed, its flat soiled 
feet curling and uncurling their ten sour mutilated toes. 

The Zulu puffed gently as he lay. 

Bill The Hollander's jaw, sticking into the direction of The 
Young Pole's helpless gestures, looked (with the pitiless scorch- 
ing face behind it) like some square house carried in the fore 
of a white cyclone. The Zulu depressed his chin; his eyes 
(poking slowly from beneath the visor of the cap which he 
always wore, in bed or out of it) regarded the vomiting tower 
with an abstracted interest. He allowed one hand delicately 
to escape from the blanket and quietly to remove from his lips 
the gently-burning cigarette. 

"You won't eh? You bloody Polak coward!" 
and with a speed in comparison to which lightening is snail- 
like the tower reached twice for the peaches-and-cream cheeks 
of the prone victim; who set up a tragic bellowing of his own, 
writhed upon his somewhat dislocated paillasse, raised his 
elbows shieldingly, and started to get to his feet by way of 
his trembling knees- — ^to be promptly knocked flat. Such a 
howling as The Young Pole set up I have rarely heard: he 

I90 The Enormous Room 

crawled sideways; he got on one knee; he made a dart for- 
ward — and was caught cleanly by an uppercut, lifted through 
the air a yard, and spread-eagled against the stove which col- 
lapsed with an unearthly crash yielding an inky shower of 
soot upon the combatants and almost crowning The Hollander 
simultaneously with three four-feet sections of pipe. The 
Young Pole hit the floor, shouting, on his head, at the apogee 
of a neatly executed back-somersault, collapsed; rose yelling, 
and with flashing eyes picked up a length of the ruined tuyau 
which he lifted high in the air — at which The Hollander seized 
in both fists a similar piece, brought it instantly forward and 
sideways with incognizable velocity and delivered such an im- 
mense wallop as smoothed The Young Pole horizontally to a 
distance of six feet; where he suddenly landed stove-pipe and 
all in a crash of entire collapse, having passed clear over The 
Zulu's head. The Zulu, remarking 

floated hingingly to a sitting position and was saluted by 
"Lie down you Gottverdummer Polaker, Fll get you next." 
In spite of which he gathered himself to rise upward, catch- 
ing as he did so a swish of The Hollander's pipe-length which 
made his cigarette leap neatly, holder and all^ upward and 
outward. The Young Pole had by this time recovered suflii- 
ciently to get upon his hands and knees behind the Zulu; who 
was hurriedly but calmly propelling himself in the direction 
of the cherished cigarette-holder, which had rolled under the 
remains of the stove. Bill The Hollander made for his enemy, 
raising perpendicularly ten feet in air the unrecognisably dented 
summit of the pipe which his colossal fists easily encompassed, 
the muscles in his treelike arms rolling beneath the chemise 
like balloons. The Young Pole with a shriek of fear climbed 
the Zulu — receiving just as he had compassed this human 
hurdle a crack on the seat of his black pants that stood him 
directly upon his head. Pivoting slightly for an instant he 
fell loosely at full length on his own paillasse, and lay sobbing 
and roaring, one elbow protectingly raised, interspersing the 
inarticulations of woe with a number of sincerely uttered 

Zoo-Loo 191 

*' Asses Ts, Meanwhile The Zulu had discovered the where- 
abouts of his treasure, had driftingly resumed his original posi- 
tion; and was quietly inserting the also-captured cigarette 
Which appeared somewhat confused by its violent aerial jour- 
ney. Over The Young Pole stood toweringly Bill The Hol- 
lander, his shirt almost in ribbons about his thick bulging neck, 
thundering as only Hollanders thunder 

"Have you got enough you Gottverdummer Polak?" 
and The Young Pole, alternating nursing the mutilated pulp 
where his face had been and guarding it with futile and help- 
less and almost infantile gestures of his quivering hands, was 

''Oui, Oui, Oui, Asses r 
And Bill The Hollander hugely turned to The Zulu, step- 
ping accurately to the paillasse of that individual, and de- 

"And you, you Gottverdummer Polaker, do you want t' 

at which The Zulu gently waved in recognition of the compli- 
ment and delicately and hastily replied, between slow puffs, 

Whereat Bill The Hollander registered a disgusted kick in 
The Young Pole's direction and swearingly resumed his pail- 

All this, the reader understands, having taken place in the 
terribly cold darkness of the half-dawn. 

That very day, after a great deal of examination (on the 
part of the Surveillant) of the participants in this Homeric 
struggle — said examination failing to reveal the particular guilt 
or the particular innocence of either — ^Judas, immaculately at- 
tired in a white coat, arrived from downstairs with a step- 
ladder and proceeded with everyone's assistance to reconstruct 
the original pipe. And a pretty picture Judas made. And a 
pretty bum job he made. But anyway the stove-pipe drew; 
and every one thanked God and fought for places about le 
poele. And Monsieur Pet-airs hoped there would be no more 
fights for a while. 

192 The Enormous Room 

One might think that The Young Pole had learned a lesson. 
But no. He had learned (it is true) to leave his immediate 
neighbor, America Lakes, to himself; but that is all he had 
learned. In a few days he was up and about, as full oi la 
blague as ever. The Zulu seemed at times almost worried 
about him. They spoke together in Polish frequently and — 
on The Zulu's part — earnestly. As subsequent events proved, 
whatever counsel The Zulu imparted was wasted upon his 
youthful friend. But let us turn for a moment to The Zulu 

He could not, of course, write any language whatever. 
Two words of French he knew: they were fromage and 
chapeau. The former he pronounced "grumidge." In Eng- 
lish his vocabulary was even more simple, consisting of the 
single word **po-lees-man." Neither B. nor myself under- 
stood a syllable of Polish (tho' we subsequently learned Jin- 
dohri, nima-Zatz, zampni-pisk and shimay pisk, and used to 
delight The Zulu hugely by giving him 

^ Jin-dohri, pan" 
every morning, also by asking him if he had a ''papierosa") ; 
consequently in that direction the path of communication was 
to all intents shut. i\nd withal — I say this not to astonish my 
reader but merely in the interests of truth — I have never in my 
life so perfectly understood (even to the most exquisite 
nuances) whatever idea another human being desired at any 
moment to communicate to me, as I have in the case of The 
Zulu. And if I had one-third the command over the written 
word that he had over the unwritten and the unspoken — not 
merely that; over the unspeakable and the unwritable — God 
knows this history would rank with the deepest art of all time. 

It may be supposed that he was master of an intricate and 
delicate system whereby ideas were conveyed through signs of 
various sorts. On the contrary. He employed signs more or 
less, but they were in every case extraordinarily simple. The 
secret of his means of complete and unutterable communica- 
tion lay in that very essence which I have only defined as an 
IS; ended and began with an innate and unlearnable control 


Zoo-Loo 193 

over all which one can only describe as the homogeneously 
tactile. The Zulu, for example communicated the following 
facts in a very few minutes, with unspeakable ease, one day 
shortly after his arrival: 

He had been formerly a Polish farmer, with a wife and 
four children. He had left Poland to come to France, where 
one earned more money. His friend (The Young Pole) ac- 
companied him. They were enjoying life placidly in, it may 
have been, Brest — I forget — when one night the gendarmes sud- 
denly broken into their room, raided it, turned it bottomside 
up, handcuffed the two arch-criminals wrist to wrist, and said 
"Come with us." Neither The Zulu nor The Young Pole had 
the ghost of an idea what all this meant or where they were 
going. They had no choice but to obey, and obey they did. 
Everyone boarded a train. Everyone got out. Bill The Hol- 
lander and The Babysnatcher appeared under escort, hand- 
cuffed to each other. They were immediately re-handcuffed 
to the Polish delegation. The four culprits were hustled, by 
tapid stages, through several small prisons to La Ferte Mace. 
During this journey (which consumed several nights and days) 
the handcuffs were not once removed. The prisoners slept sit- 
ting up or falling over one another. They urinated and de- 
fecated with the handcuffs on, all of them hitched together. 
At various times they complained to their captors that the 
agony caused by the swelling of their wrists was unbearable — 
this agony, being the result of over-tightness of the handcuffs, 
might easily have been relieved by one of the plantons with- 
out loss of time or prestige. Their complaints were greeted 
by commands to keep their mouths shut or they'd get it worse 
than they had it. Finally they hove in sight of La Ferte and 
the hand-cuffs were removed in order to enable two of the 
prisoners to escort The Zulu's box upon their shoulders, which 
they were only too happy to do under the circumstances. This 
box, containing not only The Zulu's personal effects but also 
a great array of cartridges, knives and heaven knows what ex- 
traordinary souvenirs which he had gathered from God knows 
where, was a strong point in the disfavor of The Zulu from the 

194 The Enormous Room 

beginning; and was consequently brought along as evidence. 
Upon arriving, all had been searched, the box included, and 
sent to The Enormous Room. The Zulu (at the conclusion of 
this dumb and eloquent recital) slipped his sleeve gently above 
his wrist and exhibited a bluish ring, at whose persistence upon 
the flesh he evinced great surprise and pleasure, winking hap- 
pily to us. Several days later I got the same story from The 
Young Pole in French; but after some little difficulty due to 
linguistic misunderstandings, and only after a half -hour's in- 
tensive conversation. So far as directness, accuracy and speed 
are concerned, between the method of language and the method 
of The Zulu, there was not the slightest comparison. 

Not long after The Zulu arrived I witnessed a mystery : it 
was toward the second Soupe, and B. and I were proceed- 
ing (our spoons in our hands) in the direction of the door, 
when beside us suddenly appeared The Zulu — ^who took us 
by the shoulders gently and (after carefully looking about him) 
produced from, as nearly as one could see, his right ear a 
twenty franc note ; asking us in a few well-chosen silences to 
purchase with it confiture, frontage, and chocolat at the canteen- 
He silently apologized for encumbering us with these errands, 
averring that he had been found when he arrived to have no 
money upon him and consequently wished to keep intact this 
little tradition. We were only too delighted to assist so re- 
markable a prestidigitator — we scarcely knew him at that time 
— and apres la soupe we bought as requested, conveying the 
treasures to our bunks and keeping guard over them. About 
fifteen minutes after the plant on had locked everyone in, The 
Zulu driftingly arrived before us; whereupon we attempted to 
give him his purchases — ^but he winked and told us wordlessly 
that we should (if we would be so kind) keep them for him, 
immediately following this suggestion by a request that we 
open the marmalade or jam or whatever it might be called 
— preserve is perhaps the best word. We complied with alacrity. 
Now (he said soundlessly), you may if you like offer me a 
little. We did. Now have some yourselves. The Zulu com- 
manded. So we attacked the confiture with a will, spreading 

Zoo-Loo 19^ 

it on pieces or, rather, chunks of the brownish bread whose 
faintly rotten odour is one element of the life at La Fertc 
which I, for one, find it easier to remember than to forget. And 
next, in similar fashion, we opened the cheese and offered 
some to our visitor ; and finally the chocolate. Wherepon The 
Zulu rose up, thanked us tremendously for our gifts, and — 
winking solemnly — floated off. 

Next day he told us that he wanted us to eat all of the 
delicacies we had purchased, whether or not he happened to be 
in the vicinity. He also informed us that when they were gone 
we should buy more until the twenty francs gave out. And, so 
generous were our appetites, it was not more than two or three 
weeks later that The Zulu having discovered that our sup- 
plies were exhausted produced from his back hair a neatly 
folded twenty franc note; wherewith we invaded the canteen 
with renewed violence. About this time The Spy got busy 
and The Zulu, with The Young Pole for interpreter, was sum- 
moned to Monsieur le Directeur, who stripped The Zulu and 
searched every wrinkle and crevice of his tranquil anatomy for 
money (so The Zulu vividly informed us) — finding not a sou. 
The Zulu, who vastly enjoyed the discomfiture of Monsieur, 
cautiously extracted (shortly after this) a twenty franc note 
from the back of his neck, and presented it to us with ex- 
treme care. I may say that most of his money went for cheese, 
of which The Zulu was almost abnormally fond. Nothing 
more suddenly delightful has happened to me than happened, 
one day, when I was leaning from the next to the last window 
— the last being the property of users of the cabinet — of The 
Enormous Room, contemplating the muddy expanse below, 
and wondering how the Hollanders had ever allowed the last 
two windows to be opened. Margherite passed from the door 
of the building proper to the little washing shed. As the 
sentinel's back was turned I saluted her, and she looked up 
and smiled pleasantly. And then — a hand leapt quietly for- 
ward from the wall, just to my right; the fingers clenched 
gently upon one-half a newly-broken cheese ; the hand moved 
silently in my direction, cheese and all, pausing when perhaps 

196 The Enormous Room 

six inches from my nose. I took the cheese from the hand,, 
which departed as if by magic ; and a little later had the pleas- 
ure of being joined at my window by The Zulu, who was brush- 
ing cheese crumbs from his long slender Mandarin mustaches, 
and who expressed profound astonishment and equally pro- 
found satisfaction upon noting that I too had been enjoying 
the pleasures of cheese. Not once, but several times, this 
Excalibur appearance startled B. and me: in fact the extreme 
modesty and incomparable shyness of The Zulu found only 
in this procedure a satisfactory method of bestowing presents 
upon his two friends ... I would I could see that long hand 
once more, the sensitive fingers poised upon a half-camembert ; 
the bodiless arm swinging gently and surely with a derrick- 
like grace and certainty in my direction. . . . 

Not very long after The Zulu's arrival occurred an incident 
which I give with pleasure because it shows the dauntless and 
indomitable, not to say intrepid, stuff of which plant ons are 
made. The single sceau which supplied the (at this time) 
sixty-odd inhabitants of The Enormous Room with drinking 
water had done its duty, shortly after our arrival from the 
first Soupe with such thoroughness as to leave a number of un- 
fortunate (among whom I was one) waterless. The interval 
between soupe and promenade loomed darkly and thirstily be- 
fore us unfortunates. As the minutes passed, it loomed with 
greater and greater distinctness. At the end of twenty minutes 
our thirst — stimulated by an especially salty dose of luke- 
warm water for lunch — attained truly desperate proportions. 
Several of the bolder thirsters leaned from the various win- 
dows of the room and cried 

"De Veau, planton; de I'eau, s'il voiis plait" 
upon which the guardian of the law looked up suspiciously; 
pausing a moment as if to identify the scoundrels whose temer- 
ity had so far got the better of their understanding as to lead 
them to address him, a planton, in familiar terms — and then 
grimly resumed his walk, gun on shoulder, revolver on hip, the 
picture of simple and unaffected majesty. Whereat, seeing that 
entreaties were of no avail, we put our seditious and dangerous 



heads together and formulated a very great scheme: to wit, 
the lowering of an empty tin-pail about eight inches high, 
which tin-pail had formerly contained confiture, which confiture 
had long since passed into the guts of Monsieur Auguste, The 
Zulu, B., myself, and — as The Zulu's friend — ^The Young 
Pole. Now this fiendish imitation of The Old Oaken Bucket 
That Hung In The Well was to be lowered to the good-natured 
Margherite (who went to and fro from the door of the build- 
ing to the washing-shed) ; who was to fill it for us at the pump 
situated directly under us in a cavernous chilly cave on the 
ground-fioor, then rehitch it to the rope, and guide its upward 
beginning. The rest was in the hands of Fate. 

Bold might the plant on be ; we were no faineants. We made 
a little speech to everyone in general desiring them to lend us 
their belts. The Zulu, the immensity of whose pleasure in this 
venture cannot be even indicated, stripped off his belt with un- 
earthly agility — Monsieur Auguste gave his, which we tongue- 
holed to The Zulu's — somebody else contributed a necktie — 
another a shoe-string — The Young Pole his scarf, of which 
he was impossibly proud — etc. The extraordinary rope so con- 
structed was now tried out in The Enormous Room, and found 
to be about thirty-eight feet long; or in other words of ample 
length, considering that the window itself was only three stories 
above terra firma. Margherite was put on her guard by signs, 
executed when the plant on' s back was turned (which it was 
exactly half the time, as his patrol stretched at right angles to 
the wing of the building whose third story we occupied). Hav- 
ing attached the minute bucket to one end (the stronger look- 
ing end, the end which had more belts and less neckties and 
handkerchiefs) of our improvised rope, B., Harree, myself 
and The Zulu bided our time at the window — then seizing a 
favorable opportunity, in enormous haste began paying out the 
infernal contrivance. Down went the sinful tin-pail, safely 
past the window-ledge just below us, straight and true to the 
waiting hands of the faithful Margherite — who had just re- 
ceived it and was on the point of undoing the bucket from 
the first belt when, lo! who should come in sight around the 

198 The Enormous Room 

corner but the pimply- faced brilliantly-uniformed glitter ingly- 
putteed sergeant de plantons lui-meme. Such amazement as 
dominated his puny features I have rarely seen equalled. He 
stopped dead in his tracks; for one second stupidly con- 
templated the window, ourselves, the wall, seven neckties, five 
belts, three handkerchiefs, a scarf, two shoe-strings, the jam 
pail, and Margh-^,rite — then, wheeling, noticed the plant on (who 
peacefully and with dignity was pursuing a course which car- 
ried him further and further from the zone of operations) and 
finally, spinning around again, cried shrilly 

"Qu'est-ce que vous avez foutu avec cette machine-la?" 
At which cry the planton staggered, rotated, brought his gun 
clumsily off his shoulder, and stared, trembling all over with 
emotion, at his superior. 

*' La-has!" screamed the pimply sergeant de plantons, point- 
ing fiercely in our direction. 

Margherite, at his first command, had let go the jam-pail 
and sought shelter in the building. Simultaneously with her 
flight we all began pulling on the rope for dear life, making 
the bucket bound against the wall. 

Upon hearing the dreadful exclamation "La-has!" the 
planton almost fell down. The sight which greeted his eyes 
caused him to excrete a single mouthful of vivid profanity, 
made him grip his gun like a hero, set every nerve in his noble 
and faithful body tingling. Apparently however he had for- 
gotten completely his gun, which lay faithfully and expectingly 
in his two noble hands. 

"Attention !" screamed the sergeant. 

The planton did something to his gun very aimlessly and 

*TIRE !" shrieked the sergeant, scarlet with rage and morti- 

The planton, cool as steel, raised his gun. 


The bucket, in big merry sounding jumps, was approaching 
the window below us. 

The planton took aim, falling fearlessly on one knee, and 

Zoo-Loo 199 

dosing both eyes. I confess that my blood stood on tip-toe; 
but what was death to the loss of that jam-bucket, let alone 
everyone's apparel which everyone had so generously loaned? 
We kept on hauling silently. Out of the corner of my eye I 
beheld the planton — ^now on both knees, musket held to his 
shoulder by his left arm and pointing unflinchingly at us one 
and all — hunting with his right arm and hand in his belt for 
cartridges ! A few seconds after this fleeting glimpse of heroic 
devotion had penetrated my considerably heightened sensitivity 
■ — ^UP suddenly came the bucket and over backwards we all 
went together on the floor of The Enormous Room. And as 
we fell I heard a cry like the cry of a boiler announcing noon — 

"Too late!" 

I recollect that I lay on the floor for some minutes, half on 
top of The Zulu and three-quarters smothered by Monsieur 
Auguste, shaking with laughter. . . . 

Then we all took to our hands and knees, and made for our 

I believe no one (curiously enough) got punished for this 
atrocious misdemeanor — except the planton; who was pun- 
ished for not shooting us, although God knows he had done 
his very best. 

And now I must chronicle the famous duel which took place 
between The Zulu's compatriot. The Young Pole, and that 
herebefore introduced pimp. The Fighting Sheeney; a duel 
which came as a climax to a vast deal of teasing on the part 
of The Young Pole — who, as previously remarked, had not 
learned his lesson from Bill The Hollander with the thorough- 
ness which one might have expected of him. 

In addition to a bit of French and considerable Spanish, 
Rocky feller's valet spoke Russian very (I did not have to be 
told) badly. The Young Pole, perhaps sore at being rolled on 
the floor of The Enormous Room by the worthy Sheeney, set 
about nagging him just as he had done in the case of neighbor 
Bill. His favorite epithet for the conqueror was "moshki" or 
"moski" I never was sure which. Whatever it meant (The 
Young Pole and Monsieur Auguste informed me that it meant 

200 The Enormous Room 

"Jew" in a highly derogatory sense) its effect upon the noble 
Sheeney was definitely unpleasant. But when coupled with 
the word ''moskosi" accent on the second syllable or long o, 
its effect was more than unpleasant — it was really disagreeable. 
At intervals throughout the day, on promenade, of an eve- 
ning, the ugly phrase 

''MOS-ki mosKOsi" 
resounded through The Enormous Room. The Fighting 
Sheeney, then rapidly convalescing from syphilis, bided his time. 
The Young Pole moreover had a way of jesting upon the sub- 
ject of The Sheeney 's infirmity. He would, particularly during 
the afternoon promenade, shout various none too subtle allusions 
to Moshki's physical condition for the benefit of les femmes. 
And in response would come peals of laughter from the girls' 
windows, shrill peals and deep guttural peals intersecting and 
breaking joints like overlapping shingles on the roof of Crazi- 
ness. So hearty did these responses become one afternoon 
that, in answer to loud pleas from the injured Moshki, the 
pimply sergeant de plantons himself came to the gate in the 
barbed wire fence and delivered a lecture upon the seriousness 
of venereal ailments (heart-felt, I should judge by the looks of 
him), as follows: 

'^11 ne faut pas rigoler de ga. Savcs-vousf C'est une maladie, 

which little sermon contrasted agreeably with his usual re- 
marks concerning, and in the presence of, les femmes, whereof 
the essence lay in a single phrase of prepositional significance — 

''boit pour coucher avec" 
he would say shrilly, his puny eyes assuming an expression of 
amorous wisdom which was most becoming. . . . 

One day we were all upon afternoon promenade, (it being 
heau temps for that part of the world), under the auspices of 
by all odds one of the littlest and mildest and most delicate 
specimens of mankind that ever donned the high and danger- 
ous duties of a plant on. As B. says : "He always looked like 
a June bride." This mannikin could not have been five feet 
high, was perfectly proportioned (unless we except the musket 

Zoo-Loo 20I 

upon his shoulder and the bayonet at his belt), and minced to 
anVi fro with a feminine grace which suggested — at least to 
les deux citoyens of These United States — ^the extremely au- 
thentic epithet **fairy." He had such a pretty face! and so 
cute a mustache ! and such darling legs ! and such a wonderful 
smile ! For plantonic purposes the smile — which brought two 
little dimples into his pink cheeks — ^was for the most part sup- 
pressed. However it was impossible for this little thing to 
look stern: the best he could do was to look poignantly sad. 
Which he did with great success, standing like a tragic last 
piece of uneaten candy in his big box at the end of the cour. 
and eyeing the sinful hommes with sad pretty eyes. Won't 
anyone eat me? — ^he seemed to ask. — I'm really delicious, you 
know, perfectly delicious, really I am. 

To resume: everyone being in the cour, it was well filled, 
not only from the point of view of space but of sound. A barn- 
yard crammed with pigs, cows, horses, ducks, geese, hens, cats 
and dogs could not possibly have produced one-fifth of the 
racket that emanated, spontaneously and inevitably, from the 
cour. Above which racket I heard tout d coup a roar of pain 
and surprise; and looking up with some interest and also in 
some alarm, beheld The Young Pole backing and filling and 
slipping in the deep ooze under the strenuous jolts, jabs and 
even haymakers of Thef Fighting Sheeney, who, with his coat 
off and his cap off and his shirt open at the neck, was swat- 
ting luxuriously and for all he was worth that round help- 
less face and that peaches-and-cream complexion. From 
where I stood, at a distance of six or eight yards, the impact 
of the Sheeney's fist on The Young Pole's jaw and cheeks was 
disconcertingly audible. The latter made not the slightest at- 
tempt to defend himself, let alone retaliate ; he merely skidded 
about, roaring and clutching desperately out of harm's way his 
long white scarf, of which (as T have mentioned) he was ex- 
tremely proud. But for the sheer brutality of the scene it 
would have been highly ludicrous. The Sheeney was swing- 
ing like a windmill and hammering like a blacksmith. His 
ugly head lowered, the chin protruding, lips drawn back in a 

202 The Enormous Room 

snarl, teeth sticking forth like a gorilla's, he banged and smote 
that moon-shaped physiognomy as if his life depended upon 
utterly annihilating it. And annihilate it he doubtless would 
have, but for the prompt (not to say punctual) heroism of 
The June Bride — who, lowering his huge gun, made a rush for 
the fight; stopped at a safe distance; and began squeaking at 
the very top and even summit of his faint girlish voice : 

''Aux armes! Aux armesT 
which plaintive and intrepid utterance by virtue of its very 
fragility penetrated the building and released The Black Hol- 
ster, who bounded through the gate, roaring a salutation as he 
bounded, and in a jiffy had cuffed the participants apart. "All 
right, whose fault is this ?" he roared. And a number of highly 
reputable spectators, such as Judas and The Fighting Sheeney 
himself, said it was The Young Pole's fault. ''Allez! Au 
cabinot! De suits!'' And off trickled the sobbing Young Pole, 
winding his great scarf comfortingly about him, to the 

Some few minutes later we encountered The Zulu speaking 
with Monsieur Auguste. Monsieur Auguste was very sorry. 
He admitted, that The Young Pole had brought his punish- 
ment upon himself. But he was only a boy. The Zulu's re- 
action to the affair was absolutely profound: he indicated les 
femmes with one eye, his trousers with another, and converted 
his utterly plastic personality into an amorous machine for 
several seconds, thereby vividly indicating the root of the dif- 
ficulty. That the stupidity of his friend. The Young Pole, 
hurt The Zulu deeply I discovered by looking at him as he lay 
in bed the next morning, limply and sorrowfully prone ; beside 
him the empty paillasse, which meant cabinot ... his per- 
fectly iextraordinary face (a face perfectly at once fluent and 
angular, expressionless and sensitive told me many things 
whereof even The Zulu might not speak, things which in order 
entirely to suffer he kept carefully and thoro'^ghly ensconced 
behind his rigid and mobile eyes. 

From the day that The Young Pole emerged from cabinot 
he was our friend. The blague had been at last knocked out 

Zoo-Loo 203 

of him, thanks to Un Mangeur de Blanc, as the little Machine- 
Fixer expressively called The Fighting Sheeney. Which man- 
geur, by the way (having been exonerated from all blame by 
the more enlightened spectators of the unequal battle) strode 
immediately and ferociously over to B. and me, a hideous grin 
crackling upon the coarse surface of his mug, and demanded — 
hiking at the front of his trousers — 

''Bon, ehf Bien fait, eh?" 
and a few days later asked us for money, even hinting that 
he would be pleased to become our special protector. I think, 
as a matter of fact, we "lent" him one-eighth of what he 
wanted (perhaps we lent him five cents) in order to avoid 
trouble and get rid of him. At any rate, he didn't bother us 
particularly afterwards ; and if a nickel could accomplish that 
a nickel should be proud of itself. 

And always, through the falling greyness of the desolate 
Autumn, The Zulu was beside us, or wrapped around a tree in 
the coiir, or melting in a post after tapping Mexique in a game 
of hide-and-seek, or suffering from toothache — God, I wish I 
could see him expressing for us the wickedness of toothache 
— or losing his shoes and finding them under Garibaldi's bed 
(with a huge perpendicular wink which told tomes about Gari- 
baldi's fatal popensities for ownership), or marvelling silently 
at the power of Ics femmes a propos his young friend — who, 
occasionally resuming his former bravado, would stand in the 
black evil rain with his white farm scarf twined about him, 
singing as of old: 

''Je siiis content 

pour mettre dedans 

suis pas presse 

pour tirer 

ah-la-la-la ..." 
. . . And the Zulu came out of la commission with identically 
the expressionless expression which he had carried into it ; and 
God knows what The Three Wise Men found out about 
him, but (whatever it was) they never found and never will 
find that Something whose discovery was worth to me more 

204 The Enormous Room 

than all the round and powerless money of the world — 
limbs' tin grace, wooden wink, shoulderless, unhurried body, 
velocity of a grasshopper, soul up under his arm-pits, mysteri- 
ously falling over the ownness of two feet,, floating fish of his 
slimness half a bird. . . . 

Gentlemen, I am inexorably grateful for the gift of these 
ignorant and indivisible things. 



Let us ascend the third Delectable Mountain, which is called 

I will admit, in the beginning, that I never knew Surplice. 
This for the simple reason that I am unwilling to know except 
as a last resource. And it is by contrast with Harree The 
Hollander, whom I knew, and Judas, whom I knew, that I 
shall be able to give you (perhaps) a little of Surplice, whom 
I did not know. For that matter, I think Monsieur Auguste 
was the only person who might possibly have known him ; and 
I doubt whether Monsieur Auguste was capable of descending 
to such depths in the case of so fine a person as Surplice. 
^ Take a sheer animal of a man. Take the incredible Hollan- 
der with cobalt-blue breeches, shock of orange hair pasted over 
forehead, pink long face, twenty-six years old, had been in 
all the countries of all the world: "Australia girl fine girl — 
Japanese girl cleanest girl of the world — Spanish girl all right 
— English girl no good, no face — everywhere these things: 
Norway sailors German girls Sweedisher matches Holland 
candles" . . . had been to Philadelphia (worked on a yacht 
for a millionaire; knew and had worked in the Krupp fac- 
tories; Was on two boats torpedoed and one which struck a 
mine when in sight of shore through the "looking-glass": 
^'Holland almost no soldier — India" (the Dutch Indies) "nice 
place, always warm there, I was in cavalry ; if you kill a man 
or steal one hundred franc or anything, in prison twenty-four 
hours; every week black girl sleep with you because govern- 
ment want white children,, black girl fine girl, always doing 


2o6 The Enormous Room 

something, your fingernails or clean your ears or make wind 
because it's hot. ... No one can beat German people; if 
Kaiser tell man to kill his father and mother he do it quick 1" 
— the tall, strong, coarse, vital youth who remarked : 

"I sleep with black girl who smoke a pipe in the night." 

Take this animal. You hear him, you are afraid of him, 
you smell and you see him and you know him — ^but you do not 
touch him. 

Or a man who makes us thank God for animals, Judas, as 
we called him: who keeps his mustaches in press during the 
night (by means of a kind of transparent frame which is held 
in place by a band over his head) ; who grows the nails of 
his two little fingers with infinite care ; has two girls with both 
of whom he flirts carefully and wisely, without ever once get- 
ting into trouble ; talks in French ; converses in Belgian ; can 
speak eight languages and is therefore always useful to Mon- 
sieur le Surveillant — ^Judas with his shining horrible forehead, 
pecked with little indentures ; with his Re3^nard full- face — 
Judas with his pale almost putrescent fatty body in the douche 
— Judas with whom I talked one night about Russia, he wear- 
ing my pelisse — the frightful and impeccable Judas: take this 
man. You see him, you smell the hot stale odor of Judas* 
body; you are not afraid of him, in fact, you hate him; yo 
hear him and you know him. But you do not touch him. 

And now take Surplice, whom I see and hear and smell an 
touch and even taste, and whom I do not know. 

Take him in dawn's soft squareness, gently stooping to pick 
chewed cigarette ends from the spitty floor . . . hear him, all 
night : retchings which light into the dark ... see him all day 
and all days, collecting his soaked ends and stuffing them 
gently into his round pipe (when he can find none he smokes 
tranquilly little splinters of wood) . . . watch him scratching 
his back (exactly like a bear) on the wall . . . or in the couff 
speaking to no one, sunning his soul. . . . 

He is, we think, Polish. Monsieur Auguste is very kind to 
him, Monsieur Auguste can understand a few words of his 


Surplice 207 

language and thinks they mean to be Polish. That they are 
trying hard to be and never can be Polish. 

Everyone else roars at him, Judas refers to him before his 
face as a dirty pig, Monsieur Peters cries angrily : 

"II ne faiit pas cracker par terre" 
eliciting a humble not to stay abject apology ; the Belgians spit 
on him ; the Hollanders chaff him and bulldoze him now and 
then, crying "Syphilis" — at which he corrects them with of- 
fended majesty 

*'pas syph'lis. Surplice" 
causing shouts of laughter from everyone — of nobody can he 
say My Friend, of no one has he ever or will he ever say My 

When there is labor to do he works like a dog ... the day 
we had nettoyage de chamhre, for instance, and Surplice and 
The Hat did most of the work ; and B. and I were caught by 
the planton trying to stroll out into the cour ,., . . every morn- 
ing he takes the pail of solid excrement down, without any- 
one's suggesting that he take it; takes it as if it were his, 
empties it in the sewer just beyond the cour des femmes, or 
pours a little (just a little) very delicately on the garden where 
Monsieur le Directeur is growing a flower for his daughter — 
he has, in fact, an unobstreperous affinity for excrement; he 
lives in it ; he is shaggy and spotted and blotched with it ; he 
sleeps in it ; he puts it in his pipe and says it is delicious. . . . 

And he is intensely religious, religious with a terrible and 
exceedingly beautiful and absurd intensity . . . every Friday 
he will be found sitting on a little kind of stool by his paillasse^ 
reading his prayer-book upside down; turning with enormous 
delicacy the thin difficult leaves, smiling to himself as he sees 
and does not read. Surplice is actually religious, and so are 
Garibaldi and I think The Woodchuck (a little dark sad man 
who spits blood with regularity) ; by which I mean they go to 
la messe for la messe, whereas everyone else goes pour voir 
les femmes. And I don't know for certain why The Wood- 
chuck goes, but I think it's because he feels entirely sure he 

2o8 The Enormous Room 

will die. And Garibaldi is afraid, immensely afraid. And 
Surplice goes in order to be surprised, surprised by the amaz- 
ing gentleness and delicacy of God — ^Who put him, Surplice, 
upon his knees in La Ferte Mace, knowing that Surprice would 
appreciate His so doing. 

He is utterly ignorant. He thinks America is out a particu- 
lar window on your left as you enter The Enormous Room. 
He cannot understand the submarine. He does now know 
that there is a war. On being informed upon these subjects he 
is unutterably surprised, he is inexpressibly astonished. He 
derives huge pleasure from this astonishment. His filthy 
rather proudly noble face radiates the pleasure he receives 
upon being informed that people are killing people for nobody 
knows what reason, that boats go under water and fire six- 
foot long bullets at ships, that America is not really outside 
this window close to which we are talking, that America is, 
in fact, over the sea. The sea : is that water ? — *'c*est de Veau, 
monsieur f" Ah : a great quantity of water ; enormous amounts 
of water, water and then water; water and water and water 
and water and water. "Ah! You cannot see the other side 
of this water, monsieur ? Wonderful, monsieur 1" — He medi- 
tates it, smiling quietly; its wonder, how wonderful it is, no 
other side, and yet — ^the sea. In which fish swim. Wonderful. 

He is utterly curious. He is utterly hungry. We have 
bought cheese with The Zulu's money. Surplice comes up, 
bows timidly and ingratiatingly with the demeanor of a mil- 
lion-times whipped but somewhat proud dog. He smiles. He 
says nothing, being terribly embarrassed. To help his embar- 
rassment, we pretend we do not see him. That makes things 
better : 

^'Frontage, monsieur f' 

*'0m, c^est du fromage." 

''Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h. ..." 
his astonishment is supreme. C'est du fromage. He ponders 
this. After a little 

"Monsieur, c'est hon, monsieur?" 

Surplice 209 

asking the question as if his very life depended on the answer : 
"Yes, it is good," we tell him reassuringly. 

''Ah-h-K Ah-h/' 

He is once more superlatively happy. It is good, le fromage. 
Could anything be more superbly amazing? After perhaps a 

"monsieur — monsieur — c^est chbre le fromage?" 

"Very," we tell him truthfully. He smiles, blissfully aston- 
ished. Then, with extreme delicacy and the utmost timidity 

"monsieur, comhien ga coute, monsieur?'' 
We tell him. Ha totters with astonishment and happiness. 
Only now, as if we had just conceived the idea, we say care- 

"en vouleS'VOus?" 
He straightens, thrilled from the top of his rather beautiful 
filthy head to the soleless slippers with which he promenades 
in rain and frost : 

"Merci, Monsieur!" 

We cut him a piece. He takes it quiveringly, holds it a sec- 
ond as a king might hold and contemplate the best and biggest 
jewel of his realm, turns with profuse thanks to us — and dis- 
appears. . . . 

He is perhaps most curious of this pleasantly sounding 
thing which everyone around him, everyone who curses and 
spits upon and bullies him, desires with a terrible desire — 
Liberie. Whenever anyone departs Surplice is in an ecstasy of 
quiet excitement. The lucky man may be Fritz ; for whom 
Bathhouse John is taking up a collection as if he, Fritz, were 
a Hollander and not a Dane — for whom Bathhouse John is 
striding hither and thither, shaking a hat into which we drop 
coins for Fritz ; Bathhouse John, chipmunk-cheeked, who talks 
Belgian, French, English and Dutch in his dreams, who has 
been two years in La Ferte (and they say he declined to leave, 
once, when given the chance), who cries "baigneur de femmes 
moi" and every night hoists himself into his wooden bunk 

2IO The Enormous Room 

crying "goo-d ni-te" ; whose favorite joke is ''une section pour 
les femmes," which he shouts occasionally in the cour as he 
lifts his paper-soled slippers and stamps in the freezing mud, 
chuckling and blowing his nose on the Union Jack . . . and 
now Fritz, beaming with joy, shakes hands and thanks us all 
and says to me "Good-bye, Johnny," and waves and is gone 
forever — and behind me I hear a timid voice 

"monsieur, Liber tef" 
and I say Yes, feeling that Yes in my belly and in my head at 
the same instant ; and Surplice stands beside me, quietly mar- 
velling, extremely happy, uncaring that le parti did not think 
to say good-bye to him. Or it may be Harree and Pompom 
who are running to and fro shaking hands with everybody 
in the wildest state of excitement, and I hear a voice behind 

"liherte, monsieur? Liherte?" 
and I say, No, Precigne, feeling weirdly depressed, and Sur- 
plice is standing to my left, contemplating the departure of 
the incorrigibles with interested disappointment — Surplice of 
whom no man takes any notice when that man leaves, be it for 
Hell or Paradise. . . . 

And once a week the mattrc de chambre throws soap on the 
mattresses, and I hear a voice 

"monsieur, voulez pas?" 
and Surplice is asking that we give him our soap to wash 

Sometimes, when he has made quelques sous by washing for 
others, he stalks quietly to the Butcher's chair (everyone else 
who wants a shave having been served) and receives with 
shut eyes and a patient expression the blade of The Butcher's 
dullest razor — for The Butcher is not the man to waste a good 
razor on Surplice; he. The Butcher, as we call him, the suc- 
cessor of The Frog (who one day somehow managed to dis- 
appear like his predecessor The Barber), being a thug and a 
burglar fond of telling us pleasantly about German towns and 
prisons, prisons where men are not allowed to smoke, clean 

Surplice 2Tt 

prisons where there is a daily medical inspection, where any- 
one who thinks he has a grievance of any sort has the right of 
immediate and direct appeal; he. The Butcher, being perhaps 
happiest when he can spend an evening showing us little par- 
lor tricks fit for children of four and three years old ; quite at 
his best when he remarks : 

"Sickness doesn't exist in France," 
meaning that one is either well or dead; or 

"If they (the French) get an inventor they put him in 

— So The Butcher is stooping heavily upon Surplice and 
slicing and gashing busily and carelessly, his thick lips stuck 
a little pursewise, his buried pig's eyes glistening — and in a mo- 
ment he cries "Fini!" and poor Surplice rises unsteadily, hor- 
ribly slashed, bleeding from at least three two-inch cuts and 
a dozen large scratches ; totters over to his couch holding on 
to his face as if he were afraid it would fall off any moment; 
and lies down gently at full length, sighing with pleasurable 
surprise, cogitating the inestimable delights of cleanness . . . 

It struck me at the time as intensely interesting that, in the 
case of a certain type of human being, the more cruel are the 
miseries inflicted upon him the more crud does he become 
toward any one who is so unfortunate as to be weaker or 
more miserable than himself. Or perhaps I should say that 
nearly every human being, given sufficiently miserable circum- 
stances, will from time to time react to those very circum- 
stances (whereby his own personality is mutilated) through 
a deliberate mutilation on his own part of a weaker or already 
more mutilated personality. I daresay that this is perfectly 
obvious. I do not pretend to have made a discovery. On the 
contrary, I merely state what interested me peculiarly in the 
course of my sojourn at La Ferte : I mention that I was ex- 
tremely moved to find that, however busy sixty men may be 
kept suffering in common, there is always one man or two or 
three men who can always find time to make certain that their 
comrades enjoy a little extra suffering. In the case of Sur- 

212 The Enormous Room 

plice, to be the butt of everyone's ridicule could not be called 
precisely suffering; inasmuch as Surplice, being unspeakably 
lonely, enjoyed any and all insults for the simple reason that 
they constituted or at least implied a recognition of his exist- 
ence. To be made a fool of was, to this otherwise completely 
neglected individual, a mark of distinction ; something to take 
pleasure in; to be proud of. The inhabitants of The Enor- 
mous Room had given to Surplice a small but essential part 
in the drama of La Misere: he would play that part to the 
utmost of his ability; the cap-and-bells should not grace a 
head unworthy of their high significance. He would be a great 
fool, since that was his function ; a supreme entertainer, since 
his duty was to amuse. After all, men in La Misere as well as 
anywhere else rightly demand a certain amount of amusement; 
amusement is, indeed, peculiarly essential to suffering ; in pro- 
portion as we are able to be amused we are able to suffer ; I, 
Surplice, am a very necessary creature after all. 

I recall one day when Surplice beautifully demonstrated his 
ability to play the fool. Someone had crept up behind him as 
ha was stalking to and fro, head in air proudly, hands in 
pockets, pipe in teeth, and had (after several heart-breaking 
failures) succeeded in attaching to the back of his jacket by 
means of a pin a huge placard carefully prepared beforehand, 
bearing the numerical inscription 

in vast writing. The attacher, having accomplished his diffi- 
cult feat, crept away. So soon as he reached his paillasse a 
volley of shouts went up from all directions, shouts in which 
all nationalities joined, shouts or rather jeers which made the 
pillars tremble and the windows rattle — 

Surplice started from his reverie, removed his pipe from his 
dips, drew himself up proudly, and — facing one after another 
the sides of The Enormous Room — blustered in his bad and 
rapid French accent 

Surplice 213 

"Pas syphilis! Pas syph'Us!" 
at which, rocking with mirth, everyone responded at the top 
of his voice: 

''SIX CENT sixr 

Whereat, enraged, Surplice made a dash at Pete The Shadow 
and was greeted by 

"Get away, you bloody Polak, or I'll give you something 
you'll be sorry for" — ^this from the lips of America Lakes. 
Cowed, but as majestic as ever. Surplice attempted to resume 
his promenade and his composure together. The din bulged; 

"Six cent six! Syph'lis! Six cent Six!" 
— increasing in volume with every instant. Surplice, beside 
himself with rage, rushed another of his fellow-captives (a lit- 
tle old man, who fled under the table) and elicited threats of : 

"Come on now, you Polak hoor, and quit that business or 
I'll kill you," upon which he dug his hands into the pockets of 
his almost transparent pantaloons and marched away in a fury, 
literally frothing at the mouth. — 

"Six Cent Six!" 
everyone cried. Surplice stamped with wrath and mortifica- 
tion. "C'est domage," Monsieur Auguste said gently beside 
me. "C^est un bon-homme, le pauvre, il ne faut pas I'en- 

"Look behind you !** 
somebody yelled. Surplice wheeled, exactly like a kitten try- 
ing to catch its own tail, and provoked thunders of laughter. 
Nor could anything at once more pitiful and ridiculous, more 
ludicrous and horrible, be imagined. 

"On your coat ! Look on your jacket 1" 
Surplice bent backward, staring over his left, then his right, 
shoulder, pulled at his jacket first one way then the other— 
thereby making his improvised tail to wag, which sent The 
Enormous Room into spasms of merriment — finally caught sight 
of the incriminating appendage, pulled his coat to the left, 
seized the paper, tore it off, threw it fiercely down, and stamped 
madly on the crumpled 606; spluttering and blustering and 

2^^^^ The Enormous Room 

waving his arms; slavering like a mad dog. Then he facet 
the most prominently vociferous corner and muttered thickly 
and crazily: 

^'Wuhwuhwuhwuhimih. ..." 
Then he strode rapidly to his paillasse and lay down ; in which 
position I caught him, a few minutes later, smiling and even 
chuckling . . . very happy ... as only an actor is happy 
w'hose efforts have been greeted with universal applause. . . . 

In addition to being called '"Syph'lis" he was popularly 
known as "Chaude Pisse, the Pole." If there is anything par- 
ticularly terrifying about prisons, or at least imitations of 
prisons such as La Ferte, it is possibly the utter obviousness 
with which (quite unknown to themselves) the prisoners dem- 
monstrate willy-nilly certain fundamental psychological laws. 
The case of Surplice is a very exquisite example: everyone, 
of course, is afraid of Ics maladies veneriennes — accordingly 
all pick an individual (of whose inner life they know and de- 
sire to know nothing, whose external appearance satisfies the 
requirements of the mind a propos what is foul and disgust- 
ing) and, having tacitly agreed upon this individual as a 
Symbol of all that is evil, proceed to heap insults upon him 
and enjoy his very natural discomfiture . . . but I shall re- 
member Surplice on his both knees sweeping sacredly together 
the spilled sawdust from a spittoon-box knocked over by the 
heel of the omnipotent plant on; and smiling as he smiled at 
la messe when Monsieur le Cure told him that there was al- 
ways Hell .... 

He told us one day a great and huge story of an important 
incident in his life, as follows : 

"Monsieur, disabled me — yes, monsieur — disabled — I work, 
many people, house, very high, third floor, everybody, planks 
up there — planks no good — all shake ..." (here he began to 
stagger and rotate before us) "begins to fall. . . falls, falls, 
all, all twenty-seven men — ^bricks — ^planks — ^wheelbarrows — all 
— ten metres . . . suhsuhsuhzuhzuhPOOM ! . . . everybody hurt, 
everybody killed, not me, injured . . . oui monsieur'' — and he 


Surplice 215 

smiled, rubbing his head foolishly. Twenty-seven men, bricks, 
planks and wheelbarrows. Ten metres. Bricks and planks. 
Men and wheelbarrows. . . . 

Also he told us, one night, in his gentle, crazy, shrugging 
voice, that onoe upon a time he played the fiddle with a big 
woman in Alsace-Lorraine for fifty francs a night; "c'est la 
misere" — adding quietly, "I can play well, I can play anything, 
I can play n'importe quoL" 

Which I suppose and guess I scarcely believed — until one 
afternoon a man brought up a harmonica which he had pur- 
chased en mile; and the man tried it; and everyone tried it; 
and it was perhaps the cheapest instrument and the poorest 
that money can buy, even in the fair country of France; and 
everyone was disgusted — ^but, about six o'clock in the eve- 
ning, a voice came from behind the last experimenter ; a timid 
hasty voice: 

''monsieur, monsieur, permettezf* 
the last experimenter turned and to his amazement saw Chaude 
Pisse the Pole, whom everyone had (of course) forgotten — 

The man tossed the harmonica on the table with a scornful 
look (a menacingly scornful look) at the object of universal 
execration ; and turned his back. Surplice, trembling from the 
summit of his filthy and beautiful head to the naked soles of 
his filthy and beautiful feet, covered the harmonica delicately 
and surely with one shaking paw ; seated himself with a sur- 
prisingly deliberate and graceful gesture ; closed his eyes, upon 
whose lashes there were big filthy tears . . . and played . . . 

. . . and suddenly: 

He put the harmonica softly upon the table. He rose. He 
went quickly to his paillasse. He neither moved nor spoke' nor 
responded to the calls for more music, to the cries of ''Bis!" — 
"Bien joue r—"Allezr—"Va-g-y T He was crying, quietly 
and carefully, to himself . . . quietly and carefully crying, 
not wishing to annoy anyone . . . hoping that people could 
not see that Their Fool had temporarily failed in his part. 

The following day he was up as usual before anyone else, 

2i6 The Enormous Room 

hunting for chewed cigarette ends on the spitty slippery floor 
of The Enormous Room; ready for insult, ready for ridicule, 
for buffets, for curses. 


One evening, some days after everyone who was fit for la 
commission had enjoyed the privilege of examination by that 
inexorable and delightful body — one evening very late, in fact, 
just before lumieres eteintes, a strange plant on arrived in The 
Enormous Room and hurriedly read a list of five names, 
adding : 

*'demain partis, cl bonne heure," 
and shut the door behind him. Surplice w^s, as usual, very 
interested, enormously interested. So were we : for the names 
respectively belonged to Monsieur Auguste, Monsieur Pet-airs, 
The Wanderer, Surplice and The Spoonman. These men had 
been judged. These men were going to Precigne. These men 
would be prisoniers pour la duree de la guerre. 

I have already told how Monsieur Pet-airs sat with the 
frantically weeping Wanderer writing letters, and sniffing with 
his big red nose, and saying from time to time: "Be a man, 
Demestre, don't cry, crying does no good." — Monsieur Au- 
guste was broken-hearted. We did our best to cheer him ; we 
gave him a sort of Last Supper at our bedside, we heated some 
red wine in the tin cup and he drank with us. We presented 
him with certain tokens of our love and friendship, including 
— I remember — a huge cheese . . . and then, before us, trem- 
bling with excitement, stood Surplice 

We asked him to sit down. The onlookers (there were al- 
ways onlookers at every function, however personal, which in- 
volved Food or Drink) scowled and laughed. Le con, sur- 
plice, chaude pisse — ^how could he sit with men and gentle- 
men? Surplice sat down gracefully and lightly on one of our 
beds, taking extreme care not to strain the somewhat capri- 
cious mechanism thereof ; sat very proudly ; erect ; modest but 
unf earful. We offered him a cup of wine. A kind of huge 
convulsion gripped, for an instant, fiercely his entire face: 

Surplice 217 

then he said in a whisper of sheer and unspeakable wonder- 
ment, leaning a little toward us without in any way suggest- 
ing that the question might have an affirmative answer, 

*'pour moi, monsieur?'' 
We smiled at him and said ''Prenez, monsieur." His eyes 
opened. I have never seen eyes since. He remarked quietly, 
extending one hand with majestic delicacy: 

'^Merci, monsieur." 

. . . Before he left, B. gave him some socks and I pre- 
sented him with a flannel shirt, which he took softly and slowly 
and simply and otherwise not as an American would take a 
million dollars. 

*'I will not forget you," he said to us, as if in his own 
country he were a more than very great king . . . and I think 
I know where that country is, I think I know this; I, who 
never knew Surplice, know. 

For he has the territory of harmonicas, the acres of flutes, 
the meadows of clarinets, the domain of violins. And God 
says: Why did they put you in prison? What did you do to 
the people? "I made them dance and they put me in prison. 
The soot-people hopped; and to twinkle like sparks on a 
chimney-back and I made eighty francs every dimanche, and 
beer and wine, and to eat well. Maintenant . . . c'est fini . . . 
Et tout suite (gesture of cutting himself in two) la tete" And 
He says : "O you who put the jerk into joys, come up hither. 
There's a man up here called Christ who likes the violin," 



On a certain day the ringing of the bell and accompanying 
rush of men to the window facing the entrance gate was sup- 
plemented by an unparalleled volley of enthusiastic exclama- 
tions in all the languages of La Ferte Mace — provoking in me 
a certainty that the queen of fair women had arrived. This 
certainty thrillingly withered when I heard the cry : '7/ y a un 
noir!" Fritz was at the best peep-hole, resisting successfully 
the onslaught of a dozen fellow prisoners, and of him I de- 
manded in English, "Who's come?" — "Oh, a lot of girls," he 
yelled, "and theie's a NIGGER too" — ^hereupon writhing with 

I attempted to get a look, but in vain; for by this at least 
two dozen men were at the peep-hole, fighting and gesticulat- 
ing and slapping each other's back with joy. However, my 
curiosity was not long in being answered. I heard on the 
stairs the sound of mounting feet, and knew that a 'couple of 
plantons would before many minutes arrive at the door with 
their new prey. So did everyone else — and from the farthest 
beds uncouth figures sprang and rushed to the door, eager for 
the first glimpse of the nouveau; which was very significant, as 
the ordinary procedure on arrival of prisoners was for every- 
body to rush to his own bed and stand guard over it. 

Even as the plantons fumbled with the locks I heard the 
inimitable unmistakable divine laugh of a negro. The door 
opened at last. Entered a beautiful pillar of black strutting 
muscle topped with a tremendous display of the whitest teeth 


Jean Le Negre 219 

on earth. The muscle bowed politely in our direction, the grin 
remarked musically ; ''Bo' jour, toii'Vmonde" ; then came a cas- 
cade of laughter. Its effect on the spectators was instantane- 
ous: they roared and danced with joy. "Comment vous ap- 
pelez-voux?" was fired from the hubbub. — 'Tm'appelle Jean, 
moi," the muscle rapidly answered with sudden solemnity, 
proudly gazing to left and right as if expecting a challenge to 
this statement : but when none appeared, it relapsed as suddenly 
into laughter — as if hugely amused at itself and everyone else 
including a little and tough boy, whom I had not previously 
noted, although his entrance had coincided with the muscle's. 

Thus into the miser e of La Ferte Mace stepped lightly and 
proudly Jean le Negre. 

Of all the fine people in La Ferte, Monsieur Jean {"le noir" 
as he was entitled by his enemies) swaggers in my memory as 
the finest. 

Jean's first act was to complete the distribution (begun, he 
announced, among the plantons who had eiij^rted him up- 
stairs) of two pockets full of Cubebs. Right and left he gave 
them up to the last, remarking carelessly, "J'ne veux, moi." 

Apres la soupe (which occurred a few minutes after le 
noir's entry) B. and I and the greater number of prisoners 
descended to the cour for our afternoon promenade. The 
cook spotted us immediately and desired us to "catch water" ; 
which we did, three cartfulls of it, earning our usual cafe 
Sucre. On quitting the kitchen after this delicious repast 
(which as usual mitigated somewhat the effects of the swill 
that was our official nutriment) we entered the cour. And 
we noticed at once a well-made figure standing conspicuously 
by itself, and pouring with extraordinary intentness over the 
pages of a London Daily Mail which it was holding upside- 
down. The reader was culling choice bits of news of a highly 
sensational nature, and exclaiming from time to time: "You 
don't say! Look, the king of England is sick. Some news! 
. . . What? The queen too? Good God! What's this?— 
My father is dead ! H^B Oh, well. The war is over. Good." 

220 The Enormous Room 

— It was Jean le Negre, playing a little game with himself to 
beguile the time. 

When we had mounted a la chamhre, two or three tried to 
talk with this extraordinary personage in French; at which he 
became very superior and announced: ^Tsuis anglais, moi. 
Paries anglais. Comprends pas frangais, moi." At this a 
crowd escorted him over to B. and me — anticipating great 
deeds in the English language. Jean looked at us critically 
and said: "Vous paries anglais f Moi paries anglais." — "We 
are Americans, and speak English," I answered. — "Moi an- 
glais" Jean said. "Mon phe, capitaine de gendarmes, Lon- 
dres. Comprends pas frangais, moi. SPEE-Kingliss" — he 
laughed all over himself. 

At this display of English on Jean's part the English-speak- 
ing Hollanders began laughing. "The son of a bitch is crazy/* 
one said. 

And from that moment B. and I got on famously with Jean. 

His mind was a child's. His use of language wias some- 
times exalted fibbing, sometimes the purely picturesque. He 
courted above all the sound of words, more or less disdaining 
their meaning. He told us immediately (in pidgeon French) 
that he was born without a mother because his mother died 
when he was born, that his father was (first) sixteen (then) 
sixty years old, that his father gagnait cinq cent franc par jour 
(later, par annee), that he was born in London and not in 
England, that he was in the French army and had never been 
in any army. 

He, did not, however, contradict himself in one statement : 
'^Les frangais sont des cochons" — to which we heartily agreed, 
and which won him the approval of the Hollanders. 

The next day I had my hands full acting as interpreter for 
"le noir qui comprends pas frangais." I was summoned from 
the cour to elucidate a great grief which Jean had been unable 
to explain to the Gestionnaire. I mounted with a planton to 
find Jean in hysterics, speechless, his eyes starting out of his 

Jean Le Negre 221 

head. As nearly as I could make out, Jean had had sixty 
francs when he arrived, which money he had given to a plan- 
ton upon his arrival, the planton having told Jean that he 
would deposit the money with the Gestionnaire in Jean's name 
(Jean could not write). The planton in question who looked 
particularly innocent and denied this charge upon my explain- 
ing Jean's version; while the Gestionnaire puffed and grum- 
bled, disclaiming any connection with the alleged theft and 
protesting sonorously that he was hearing about Jean's sixty 
francs for the first time. The Gestionnaire shook his thick 
piggish finger at the book wherein all financial transactions 
were to be found — from the year one to the present year, 
month, day, hour and minute (or words to that 'effect). *'Mais 
c*est pas la" he kept repeating stupidly. The Surveillant was 
uh-ahing at a great rate and attempting to pacify Jean in 
French. I myself was somewhat fearful for Jean's sanity and 
highly indignant at the planton. The matter ended with the 
planton' s being sent about his business; simultaneously with 
Jean's dismissal to the cour, whither I accompanied him. My 
best efforts to comfort Jean in this matter were quite futile. 
Like a child who has been unjustly punished he was inconsol- 
able. Gre^t tears welled in his eyes. He kept repeating 
^'sees'tee franc — planton voleur," and — absolutely like a child 
who in anguish calls itself by the name which has been given 
itself by grown-ups — "steel Jean munee." To no avail I called 
the Planton a menteur, a voleur, a fils d*un chien, and various 
other names. Jean felt the wrong itself too keenly to be in- 
terested in my denunciation of the mere agent through whom 
injustice had (as it happened) been consummated. 

But — again like an inconsolable child who weeps his heart 
out when no human comfort avails and wakes the next day 
without an apparent trace of the recent grief — ^Jean le Negre, 
in the course of the next twenty-four hours, had completely 
recovered his normal buoyancy of spirit. The sees- 
tee franc were gone. A wrong had been done. But that was 
yesterday. To-day 

222 The Enormous Room 

and he wandered up and down, joking, laughing, singing 

'^apres la guerre finit." . . . 

In the cour Jean was the target of all female eyes. Hand- 
kerchiefs were waved to him; phrases of the most amorous 
nature greeted his every appearance. To all these demonstra- 
tions he by no means turned a deaf ear; on the contrary. 
Jean was irrevocably vain. He boasted of having been enor- 
mously popular with the girls wherever he went and of hav- 
ing never disdained their admiration. In Paris one day — (and 
thus it happened that we discovered why le gouvernement 
frangais had arrested Jean) 

One afternoon, having rien a faire, and being flush (owing 
to his success as a thief, of which vocation he made a great 
deal, adding as many ciphers to the amounts as fancy dic- 
tated) Jean happened to cast his eyes in a store window where 
were displayed all possible appurtenances for the militaire. 
Vanity was rooted deeply in Jean's soul. The uniform of an 
English captain met his eyes. Without a moment's hesitation 
he entered the store, bought the entire uniform, including 
leather puttees and belt (of the latter purchase he was espe- 
cially proud), and departed. The next store contained a dis- 
play of medals of all descriptions. It struck Jean at once that 
a uniform would be incomplete without medals. He entered 
this store, bought one of every decoration^ — not forgetting the 
Colonial, nor yet the Belgian Cross (which on account of its 
size and color particularly appealed to him) — and went to his 
room. There he adjusted the decorations on the chest of his 
blouse, donned the uniform, and sallied importantly forth to 
capture Paris. 

Everywhere he met with success. He was frantically pur- 
sued by women of all stations from les putains to les prin- 
cesses. The police salaamed to him. His arm was wearied 
with the returning of innumerable salutes. So far did his 
medals carry him that, although on one occasion a gendarme 
dared to arrest him for beating-in the head of a fellow 
English officer (who being a mere lieutenant, should not have 

Jean Le Negre 223 

objected to Captain Jean's stealing the affections of his lady) . 
the sergeant of police before whom Jean was arraigned on a 
charge of attempting to kill refused to even hear the evidence, 
and dismissed the case with profuse apologies to the heroic 
Captain. *''Le gouvernement frangais, Monsieur, extends to 
you, through me, its profound apology for the insult which 
your honor has received.' lis sonf des cochons, les frangais" 
said Jean, and laughed throughout his entire body. 

Having had the most blue-blooded ladies of the capital coo- 
ing upon his heroic chest, having completely beaten up, with the 
full support of the law, whosoever of lesser rank attempted to 
cross his path or refused him the salute — ^having had "great 
fun" saluting generals on les grands boulevards and being in 
turn saluted ("tous les generals, tous, salute me, Jean have 
more medals"), and this state of affairs having lasted for 
about three months — ^Jean began to be very bored (me trh 
ennuye), A fit of temper ("me tres fachk") arising from this 
en(nui led to a rixe with the police, in consequence of which 
(Jean, though outnumbered three to one, having almost killed 
one of his assailants), our hero was a second time arrested 
This time the authorities went so far as to ask the heroic cap- 
tain to what branch of the English army he was at present at- 
tached ; to which Jean first replied ''parle pas frangais, moi," 
and immediately after announced that he was a Lord of the 
Admiralty, that he had committed robberies in Paris to the 
tune of sees meel-i-own franc, that he was a son of the Lord 
Mayor of London by the Queen, that he had lost a leg in Al- 
geria, and that the French were cochons. All of which asser- 
tions being duly disproved, Jean was remanded to La Ferte 
for psychopathic observation and safe keeping on the technical 
charge of wearing an English officer's uniform. 

Jean's particular girl at La Ferte was "LOO-Loo." With 
Lulu it was the same as with les princesses in Paris — "me no 
travaille, jam-MAIS. Les femmes travaillent, geev Jean 
mun-ee, sees, sees-tee, see-cent francs. Jamais travaille, mot." 
Lulu smuggled Jean money; and not for some time did the 

224 The Enormous Room 

woman who slept next Lulu miss it. Lulu also sent Jean a 
lace embroidered handkerchief , which Jean would squeeze and 
press to his lips with a beatific smile of perfect contentment. 
The affair with Lulu kept Mexique and Pete The Hollander 
busy writing letters ; wihich Jean dictated, rolling his eyes and 
scratching his head for words. 

At this time Jean was immensely happy. He was continu- 
ally playing practical jokes on one of the Hollanders, or 
Mexique, or the Wanderer, or, in fact, anyone of whom he 
was particularly fond. At intervals between these demonstra- 
tions of irrepressibility (which kept everyone in a state of 
laughter) he would stride up and down the filth-sprinkled 
floor with his hands in the pockets of his stylish jacket, sing- 
ing at the top of his Itmgs his own version of the famous 
song of songs: 

apres la guerre finit, 

soldat anglais parti, 

mademoiselle que je laissais en France 

avec des pickaninee. PLENTY! 
and laughing till he shook and had to lean against a wall. 

B. and Mexique made some dominoes. Jean had not the 
least idea of how to play, but when we three had gathered 
for a game he was always to be found leaning over our shoul- 
ders, completely absorbed, once in a while offered us sage ad- 
vice, laughing utterly when someone made a cinque or a mul- 
tiple thereof. 

One afternoon, in the interval between la soupe and pronp- 
enade, Jean was in especially high spirits. I was lying down 
on my collapsible bed when he came up to my end of the 
room and began showing off exactly like a child. This time it 
was the game of Varmee frangaise which Jean was playing. — 
"Jamais soldat, moi, Connais tous Varmee frangaise." John 
The Bathman, stretched comfortably in his bunk near me, 
grunted. "Tous" Jean repeated. — And he stood in front of 
us ; stiff as a stick in imitation of a French lieutenant with an 
imaginary company in front of him. First he would be the 


Jean Le Negre 225 

lieutenant giving commands, then he would be the Army exe- 
cuting them. He began with the manual of arms. 
"Com-pag-nie ..." then, as he went through the manual, 
holding his imaginary gun — ''htt, hit, htt/' — Then as the of- 
ficer commending his troops : ''Bon. Trcs hon, Trbs bien fait" 
— laughing with head thrown back and teeth aglitter at his 
own success. John le Baigneur was so tremendously amused 
that he gave up sleeping to watch. Uarmee drew a crowd of 
admirers from every side. For at least three-quarters of an 
hour this game went on. . . . 

Another day Jean, being angry at the weather and having 
eaten a huge amount of soupe, began yelling at the top of his 
voice: ^'MERDE a la France" and laughing heartily. No 
one paying especial attention to him, he continued (happy in 
this new game with himself) for about fifteen minutes. Then 
The Trick Raincoat (that undersized specimen, clad in femi- 
nine-fitting raiment with flashy shoes, who was by trade a 
pimp, being about half Jean's height and a tenth of his phys- 
ique, strolled up to Jean — ^who had by this time got as far as 
my bed — and, sticking his sallow face as near Jean's as the 
neck could reach, said in a solemn voice: '7/ ne faut pas dire 
qa" Jean astounded, gazed at the intruder for a moment; 
then demanded : '^Qui dit gaf Moif Jeanf Jamais^ ja-MAIS, 
MERDE d la France!" nor would he yield a point, backed 
up as he was by the moral support of everyone present except 
the Raincoat — ^who found discretion the better part of valor 
and retired with a few dark threats; leaving Jean master of 
the situation and yelling for the Raincoat's particular delecta- 
tion: "MAY-RRR-DE a la France!" more loudly than ever. 

A little after the epic battle with stovepipes between The 
Young Pole and Bill The Hollander, the wrecked poele (which 
was patiently waiting to be repaired) furnished Jean with per- 
haps his most brilliant inspiration. The final section of pipe 
(which conducted the smoke through a hole in the wall to the 
outer air) remained in place all by itself, projecting about six 
feet into the room at a height of seven or eight feet from the 

226 The Enormous Room 

floor. Jean noticed this; got a chair; mounted on it, and by 
applying alternately his ear and his mouth to the end of the 
pipe created for himself a telephone, with the aid of which he 
carried on a conversation with The Wanderer (at that mo- 
mient visiting his family on the floor below) to this effect: 

— ^Jean, grasping the pipe and speaking angrily into it, being 
evidently nettled at the poor connection — "Heh-loh, hello, hello, 
hello" — surveying the pipe in consternation — '^Merde. Ca 
marche pas'* — ^trying again with a deep frown — "heh-LOH!" 
— tremendously agitated — "HEHLOH!" — a beautiful smile 
supplanting the frown — "hello Barbu. Are you there? Ouif 
Bon!" — evincing tremendous pleasure at having succeeded in 
establishing the connection satisfactorily — "Barbu? Are you 
listening to me? Ouif What's the matter Barbu? Comment? 
Moif Oui MOIf JEAN? jaMAIS! jamms, jaMAIS, 
Barbu. I have never said you have fleas. Cetait pas moi, tu 
sais. JaMAISf c'etait un autre, Peutetre c'etait Mexique" — 
turning his head in Mexique's direction and roaring with laugh- 
ter — "Hello, HEH-LOH. Barbu ? Tu sais, Barbu^ fai jamais 
dit ga. Au contraire, Barbu. Fai dit que vous avez des totos" 
— another roar of laughter — "What? It isn't true? Good. 
Then. What have you got, Barbu ? Barbu? Lice— OHHHH. 
I understand. Its better" — shaking with laughter, then sud- 
denly tremendously serious — "hellohellohellohello HEHLOH !" 
— addressing the stovepipe — "C'est une mauvaise machine, ga" 
— speaking into it with the greatest distinctness — "HEL-L- 
LOH. Barbu? Liberie, Barbu. Oui. Commontf Cest ga. 
Liberie pour tou'Vmonde. Quandf Apres la soupe. Oui. 
Liberie pouf^ tou'Vmonde apres la soupe!"- — to which jest 
astonishingly reacted a certain old man known as the West 
Indian Negro (a stocky credulous creature with whom Jean 
would have nothing to do, and whose tales of Brooklyn were 
indeed outclassed by Jean's hisfoires d'amour) who leaped 
rheumatically from his paillasse at the word "Liberie" and 
rushed limpingly hither and thither inquiring Was it true? — 
to the enormous and excruciating amusement of The Enor- 
mous Room in general. 

Jean Le Negre 227 

After which Jean, exhausted with laughter, descended from 
the chair and lay down on his bed to read a letter from Lulu 
(not knowing a syllable of it). A little later he came rushing 
up to my bed in the most terrific state of excitement, the whites 
of his eyes gleaming, his teeth bared, his kinky hair fairly 
standing on end, and cried : 

"You — me, me — ^you? Pas bon. You — ^you, me — ^me: bon. 
Me — me, you — ^you!" and went away capering and shouting 
with laughter, dancing with great grace and as great agility and 
with an imaginary partner the entire length of the room. 

There was another game — a pure child's game — ^which Jean 
played. It was the name game. He amused himself for hours 
together by lying on his paillasse tilting his head back, rolling 
up his eyes, and crying in a high quavering voice — "JAW- 
neeeeee." After a repetition or two of his own name in Eng- 
lish, he would demand sharply "Who is calling me? Mexique? 
Es-ce que tu m'appelle, Mexique?" and if Mexique happened 
to be asleep, Jean would rush over and cry in his ear, shaking 
him thoroughly — "Es-ce tu m'appelle, toif" Or it might be 
Barbu, or Pete The Hollander, or B. or myself, of whom he 
sternly asked the question — ^which was always followed by 
quantities of laughter on Jean's part. He was never perfectly 
happy unless exercising his inexhaustible imagination. . . . 

Of all Jean's extraordinary selves, the moral one was at 
once the most rare and most unreasonable. In the matter of 
les femmes he could hardly have been accused by his bitterest 
enemy of being a Puritan. Yet the Puritan streak came out 
one day, in a discussion which lasted for several hours. Jean 
as in the case of France, spoke in dogma. His contention was 
very simple: "The woman who smokes is not a woman." He 
defended it hotly against the attacks of all the nations repre- 
sented ; in vain did Belgian and Hollander, Russian and Pole, 
Spaniard and Alsatian, charge and counter-charge^-Jean re- 
mained unshaken. A woman could do anything but smoke — 
if she smoked she ceased automatically to be a woman and 
became something unspeakable. As Jean was at this time sit- 
ting alternately on B.'s bed and mine, and as the alternations 

228 The Enormous Room 

became increasingly frequent as the discussion waxed hotter, 
we were not sorry when the planton's shout ''A la promenade 
les hommes!" scattered the opposing warriors. Then up leaped 
Jean (who had almost come to blows innumerable times) and 
rushed laughing to the door, having already forgotten the 
whole thing. 

Now we come to the story of Jean's undoing, and may the 
gods which made Jean le Negre give me grace to tell it as it 

The trouble started with Lulu. One afternoon, shortly after 
the telephoning, Jean was sick at heart and couldn't be induced 
either to leave his couch or to utter a word. Everyone guessed 
the reason — Lulu had left for another camp that morning. The 
planton told Jean to come down with the rest and get soupe. 
No answer. Was Jean sick? "Out, me seek." And stead- 
fastly he refused to eat, till the disgusted planton gave it up 
and locked Jean in alone. When we ascended after la soupe 
we found Jean as we had left him, stretched on his couch, big 
tears on his cheeks. I asked him if I could do anything for 
him; he shook his head. We offered him cigarettes — no, he 
did not wish to smoke. As B. and I went away we heard him 
moaning to himself "J^wnee no see LooLoo no more." With 
the exception of ourselves, the inhabitants of La Ferte Mace 
took Jean's desolation as a great joke. Shouts of Lulu ! rent 
the welkin on all sides. John stood it for an hour; then he 
leaped up, furious ; and demanded (confronting the man from 
whose lips the cry had last issued) — "Feeneesh LooLoo?" The 
latter coolly referred him to the man next to him ; he in turn 
to someone else ; and round and round the room Jean stalked, 
seeking the offender, followed by louder and louder shouts of 
Lulu! and Jawnee! the authors of which (so soon as he 
challenged them) denied with innocent faces their guilt and 
recommended that Jean look closer next time. At last Jean 
took to his couch in utter misery and disgust. The rest of 
les hommes descended as usual for the promenade — not so Jean. 
He ate nothing for supper. That evening not a sound issued 
from his bed. 

Jean Le Negre 229 

Next morning he awoke with a broad grin, and to the saluta- 
tions of Lulu! replied, laughing heartily at himself "FEEN- 
EESH Loo Loo." Upon which the tormentors (finding in 
him no longer a victim) desisted; and things resumed their 
normal course. If an occasional Lulu! upraised itself, Jean 
merely laughed, and repeated (with a wave of his arm) 
"FEENEESH." Finished Lulu seemed to be. 

But un jour I had remained upstairs during the promenade, 
both because I wanted to write and because the weather was 
worse than usual. Ordinarily, no matter how deep the mud 
in the cour, Jean and I would trot back and forth, resting from 
time to time under the little shelter out of the drizzle, talking 
of all things under the sun. I remember on one occasion we 
were the only ones to brave the rain and slough — ^Jean in paper- 
thin soled slippers (which he had recently succeeded in draw- 
ing from the Gestionnaire) and I in my huge sabots — ^hurry- 
ing back and forth with the rain pouring on us, and he very 
proud. On this day, however, I refused the challenge of the 

The promenaders had been singularly noisy, I thought. Now 
they were mounting to the room making a truly tremendous 
racket. No sooner were the doors opened than in rushed half a 
dozen frenzied friends, who began telling me all at once about 
a terrific thing which my friend the noir had just done. It 
seems that The Trick Raincoat had pulled at Jean's handker- 
chief (Lulu's gift in other days) which Jean wore always con- 
spicuously in his outside breast pocket; that Jean had taken 
the Raincoat's head in his two hands, held it steady, abaised 
his own head, and rammed the helpless T. R. as a bull would 
do — ^the impact of Jean's head upon the other's nose causing 
that well-known feature to occupy a new position in the neigh- 
borhood of the right ear. B. corroborated this description, 
adding the Raincoat's nose was broken and that everyone was 
down on Jean for fighting in an unsportsmanlike way. I 
found Jean still very angry, and moreover very hurt because 
everyone was now shunning him. I told him that I personally 
was glad of what he'd done ; but nothing would cheer him up. 

230 The Enormous Room 

The T. R. now entered, very terrible to see, having been 
patched up by Monsieur Richard with copious plasters. His 
nose was not broken, he said thickly, but only bent. He hinted 
darkly of trouble in store for le moir; and received the com- 
miserations of everyone present except Mexique, The Zulu, B. 
and me. The Zulu, I remember, pointed to his own nose 
(which was not unimportant), then to Jean, and made a moue 
of ecruciating anguish, and winked audibly. 

Jean's spirit was broken. The well-nigh unanimous verdict 
against Lim had convinced his minutely sensitive soul that it 
had done wrong. He lay quietly, and would say nothing to 

Some time after the soup, about eight o'clock, the Fighting 
Sheeney and The Trick Raincoat suddenly set upon Jean le 
Negre a propos of nothing ; and began pommelling him cruelly. 
The conscience-stricken pillar of beautiful muscle — who could 
have easily killed both his assailants at one blow — not only of- 
fered no reciprocatory violence but refused even to defend 
himself. Unresistingly, wincing with pain, his arms me- 
chanically raised and his head bent, he was battered fright- 
fully to the window by his bed, thence into the corner (up- 
setting the stool in the pissoir), thence along the wall to the 
door. As the punishment increased he cried out like a child: 
''Laisses-moi tranquille!" — again and again; and in his voice 
the insane element gained rapidly. Finally, shrieking in agony, 
he rushed to the nearest window; and while the Sheeneys to- 
gether pommelled him yelled for help to the planton beneath. — 

The unparalleled consternation and applause produced by 
this one-sided battle had long since alarmed the authorities. I 
was still trying to break through the five-deep ring of specta- 
tors (among whom was The Messenger Boy, who advised 
me to desist and got a piece of advice in return) — when with a 
tremendous crash open burst the door; and in stepped four 
plantons with drawn revolvers, looking frightened to death, 
followed by the Surveillant who carried a sort of baton and 
was crying faintly: ''Qu'es-ce que c'est!" 

At the first sound of the door the two Sheeneys had fled, 

Jean Le Negre 231 

and were now playing the part of innocent spectators. Jean 
alone occupied the stage. His lips were parted. His eyes were 
enormous. He was panting as if his heart would break. He 
still kept his arms raised as if seeing everywhere before him 
fresh enemies. Blood spotted here and there the wonderful 
chocolat carpet of his skin, and his whole body glistened with 
sweat. His shirt was in ribbons over his beautiful muscles. 
■ Seven or eight persons at once began explaining the fight to 
the Surveillant, who could make nothing out of their accounts 
and therefore called aside a trusted older man in order to get 
his version. The two retired from the room. The plantons, 
finding the expected wolf a lamb, flourished their revolvers 
about Jean and threatened him in the insignificant and vile 
language which plantons use to anyone whom they can bully. 
Jean kept repeating dully "laissez-moi tranquille. lis voulaient 
me tuer" His chest shook terribly with vast sobs. 
I Now the Surveillant returned and made a speech, to the 
effect that he had received independently of each other the 
stories of four men, that by all counts le negre was absolutely 
to blame, that le negre had caused an Inexcusable trouble to 
the authorities and to his fellow-prisoners by this wholly un- 
justified conflict, and that as a punishment the negre would now 
suffer the consequences of his guilt in the cabinot, — Jean had 
dropped his arms to his sides. His face was twisted with 
anguish. He made a child's gesture, a pitiful hopeless move- 
ment with his slender hands. Sobbing he protested : *Tt isn't 
my fault, monsieur le Surveillant ! They attacked me ! I didn't 
do a thing ! They wanted to kill me ! Ask him" — ^he pointed to 
me desperately. Before I could utter a syllable the Surveillant 
raised his hand for silence : le negre had done wrong. He 
should be placed in the cabinot. 

— Like a flash, with a horrible tearing sob, Jean leaped from 
the surrounding plantons and rushed for the coat which lay 
on his bed screaming — "AHHHHH — mon couteau!" — "Look 
out or he'll get his knife and kill himself !" someone yelled ; 
and the four plantons seized Jean by both arms just as he made 
a gjab for his jacket. Thwarted in his hope and burning with 

232 The Enormous Room 

the ignominy of his situation, Jean cast his enormous eyes up 
at the nearest pillar, crying hysterically : "Everybody is putting 
me in cabinot because I am black." — In a second, by a single 
movement of his arms, he sent the four plant ons reeling to a 
distance of ten feet : leaped at the pillar : seized it in both hands 
like a Samson, and (gazing for another second with a smile of 
absolute beatitude at its length) dashed his head against it. 
Once, twice, thrice he smote himself^ before the plant ons seized 
him — and suddenly his whole strength wilted ; he allowed him- 
self to be overpowered by them and stood with bowed head, 
tears streaming from his eyes — ^while the smallest pointed a 
revolver at his heart. 

This was a little more than the Surveillant had counted on. 
Now that Jean's might was no more, the bearer of the croix 
de guerre stepped forward and in a mild placating voice en- 
deavored to soothe the victim of his injustice. It was also 
slightly more than I could stand, and slamming aside the spec- 
tators I shoved myself under his honor's nose. "Do you 
know" I asked, "Whom you are dealing with in this man? A 
child. There are a lot of Jeans where I come from. You 
heard what he said ? He is black, is he not, and gets no justice 
from you. You heard that. I saw the whole affair. He was 
attacked, he put up no resistance whatever, he was beaten by 
two cowards. He is no more to blame than I am." — The Sur- 
veillant was waving his wand and cooing **Je comprends, je 
comprends, c'est malheureux** — "You're god damn right its 
malheureux" I said, forgetting my French. "Quand meme, 
he has resisted authority" The Surveillant gently continued: 
"Now Jean, be quiet, you will be taken to the cabinot. You 
may as well go quietly and behave yourself like a good boy." 

At this I am sure my eyes started out of my head. All I 
could think of to say was: ** Attends, un petit moment.'* To 
reach my own bed took but a second. In another second I was 
back, bearing my great and sacred pelisse . I marched up to 
Jean. "Jean" I remarked with a smile, "You are going to the 
cabinot but you're coming back right away. I know that you 
are perfectly right. Put that on'' — and T pushed him gently 

Jean Le Negre 233 

into my coat. "Here are my cigarettes, Jean ; you can smoke 
just as much as you like" — I pulled out all I had, one full 
pacquet of Marylands and a half dozen loose ones, and de- 
posited them carefully in the right hand pocket of the pelisse. 
Then I patted him on the shoulder and gave him the immortal 
salutation — "Bonne chance, mon ami!" 

He straightened proudly. He stalked like a king through 
the doorway. The astounded plantons and the embarrassed 
Surveillant followed, the latter closing the doors behind him. 
I was left with a cloud of angry witnesses. 

An hour later the doors opened, Jean entered quietly, and the 
doors shut. As I lay on my bed I could see him perfectly. He 
was almost naked. He laid my pelisse on his mattress, then 
walked calmly up to a neighboring bed and skillfully and un- 
erringly extracted a brush from under it. Back to his own bed 
he tiptoed, sat down on it, and began brushing my coat. He 
brushed it for a half hour, speaking to no one, spoken to by 
no one. Finally he put the brush back, disposed the pelisse 
carefully on his arm, came to my bed, and as carefully laid it 
down. Then he took from the right hand outside pocket a 
full paquet jaune and six loose cigarettes, showed them for my 
approval, and returned them to their place. "Merci" was his 
sole remark. B. got Jean to sit down beside him on his bed 
and we talked for a few minutes, avoiding the subject of the 
recent struggle. Then Jean went back to his own bed and 
lay down. 

It was not till later that we learned the climax — ^not till le 
petit beige avec le bras casse, le petit balayeur, came hurrying 
to our end of the room and sat down with us. He was burst- 
ing with excitement; his well arm jerked and his sick one 
stumped about and he seemed incapable of speech. At length 

words came. 


''Monsieur Jean'' (now that I think of it, I believe some- 
'one had told him that all male children in America are named 
Jean at their birth) "I saw SOME SIGHT ! le negre, vous 
savesF—he is STRONG: Monsieur Jean, he's a GIANT, 

234 The Enormous Room 

croyez moil Cest pas un homme, tu saisF Je Vai vu, moi" — 
and he indicated his eyes. 

We pricked up our ears. 

The balayeur, stuffing a pipe nervously with his tiny thumb 
said: "You saw the fight up here? So did I. The whole of it. 
Le noir avail raison. Well, when they took him downstairs, I 
slipped out too — Je suis le balayeur, savez vousf and the 
balayeur can go where other people can't." 

I gave him a match, and he thanked me. He struck it on 
his trousers with a quick pompous gesture, drew heavily on his 
squeaky pipe, and at last shot a minute puff of smoke into the 
air: then another, and another. Satisfied, he went on; his 
good hand grasping the pipe between its index and second 
fingers and resting on one little knee, his legs crossed, his small 
body hunched forward, wee unshaven face close to mine — went 
on in the confidential tone of one who relates an unbelievable 
miracle to a couple of intimate friends: 

"Monsieur Jean, I followed. They got him to the cabinot 
The door stood open. At this moment les femmes descendaient, 
it was their corvee d'eau, vous saves. He saw them, le noir. 
One of them cried from the stairs^ Is a Frenchman stronger 
than you, Jean? The plantons were standing around him, the 
Surveillant was behind. He took the nearest planton, and 
tossed him down the corridor so that he struck against the door 
at the end of it. He picked up two more, one in each arm, and 
threw them away. They fell on top of the first. The last tried 
to take hold of Jean, and so Jean took him by the neck" — (the 
balayeur strangled himself for our benefit) — "and that planton 
knocked down the other three, who had got on their feet by 
this time. You should have seen the Surveillant. He had run 
away and was saying, 'Capture him, capture him.' The plantons 
rushed Jean, all four of them. He caught them as they came 
and threw them about. One knocked down the Surveillant. 
The women cried 'Vive Jean,' and clapped their hands. The 
Surveillant called to the plamtons to take Jean, but they 
wouldn't go near Jean, they said he was a black devil. The 
women kidded them. They were so sore. And they could 

Jean Le Negre 235 

do nothing. Jean was laughing. His shirt was almost off 
him. He asked the plantons to come and take him, please. 
He asked the Surveillant, too. The women had set down their 
pails and were dancing up and down and yelling. The Direc- 
teur came down and sent them flying. The Surveillant and his 
plantons were as helpless as if they had been children. Monsieur 
Jean — quelque chose" 

I gave him another match. ''Merci, Monsieur Jean" He 
struck it, drew on his pipe, lowered it ,and went on : 

"They were helpless, and men. I am little. I have only 
one arm, fu sais. I walked up to Jean and said, Jean, you 
know me, I am your friend. He said, Yes. I said to the 
plantons. Give me that rope. They gave me the rope that they 
would have bound him with. He put out his wrists for me. 
I tied his hands behind his back. He was like a lamb. The 
plantons rushed up and tied his feet together. Then they tied 
his hands and feet together. They took the lacings out of his 
shoes for fear he would use them to strangle himself. They 
stood him up in an angle between two walls in the cahinot. 
They left him there for an hour. He was supposed to have 
been in there all night ; but the Surveillant knew thait he would 
have died, for he was almost naked, and vous savez, Monsieur 
Jean, it was cold in there. And damp. A fully clothed man 
would have been dead in the morning. And he was naked. . , , 
Monsieur Jean — un geantl" 

— This same petit beige had frequently protested to me that 
// est fou, le noir. He is always playing when sensible men 
try to sleep. The last few hours (which had made of the fou 
a g^ant) made of the scoffer a worshipper. Nor did "le bras 
casse" ever from that time forth desert his divinity. If as 
balayeur he could lay hands on a morceau de pain or de viande, 
he bore it as before to our beds ; but Jean was always called 
over to partake of the forbidden pleasure. 

As for Jean, one would hardly have recognized him. It was 
as if the child had fled into the deeps of his soul, never to re- 
appear. Day after day went by, and Jean (instead of court- 

236 The Enormous Room 

ing excitement as before) cloistered himself in solitude; or at 
most sought the company of B. and me and Le Petit Beige for 
a quiet chat or a cigarette. The morning after the three fights 
he did not appear in the cour for early promenade along with 
the rest of us (including The Sheeneys). In vain did les 
femmes strain their necks and eyes to find the black man who 
was stronger than six Frenchmen. And B. and I noticed our 
bed-clothing airing upon the window-sills. When we mounted, 
Jean was patting and straightening our blankets^ and looking 
for the first time in his life guilty of some enormous crime. 
Nothing however had disappeared. Jean said, *'Me feeks lits 
tons les jours" And every morning he aired and made our 
beds for us, and we mounted to find him smoothing affection- 
ately some final ruffle, obliterating with enormous solemnity 
some microscopic crease. We gave him cigarettes when he 
asked for them (which was almost never) and offered them 
when we knew he had none or when we saw him borrowing 
from some one else whom his spirit held in less esteem. Of 
us he asked no favors. He liked us too well. 

When B. went away, Jean was almost as desolate as I. 

About a fortnight later, when the grey dirty snow-slush 
hid the black filthy world which we saw from our windows, 
and when people lived in their ill-smelling beds, it came to pass 
that my particular amis — The Zulu, Jean, Mexique — and I and 
all the remaining miserahles of La Ferte descended at the de- 
cree of Caesar Augustus to endure our bi-weekly bath. I re- 
member gazing stupidly at Jean's chocolate-colored nakedness 
as it strode to the tub, a rippling texture of muscular miracle. 
Tout le monde had haigne (including The Zulu, who tried to 
escape at the last minute and was nabbed by the planton whose 
business it was to count heads and see that none escaped the 
ordeal and now tout le monde was shivering all together in 
the anteroom,, begging to be allowed to go upstairs and get into 
bed — when Ijsl Baigneur, Monsieur Richard's strenuous suc- 
cessor that is, set up a hue and cry that one towel was lacking. 
The Fencer was sent for. He entered; heard the case; and 
made a speech. If the guilty party would immediately return 

Jean Le Negre 237 

the stolen towel, he, the Fencer, would guarantee that party 
pardon; if not, everyone present should be searched, and the 
man on whose person the serviette was found va attraper 
quince jours de cabinot. This eloquence yielding no results. 
The Fencer exorted the culprit to act like a man and render 
to Caesar what is Csesar's. Nothing happened. Everyone was 
told to get in single file and make ready to pass out the door. 
One after one we were searched ; but so general was the curi- 
osity that as fast as they were inspected the erstwhile bed- 
enthusiasts, myself included, gathered on the side-lines to 
watch their fellows instead of availing themselves of the op- 
portunity to go upstairs. One after one we came opposite 
The Fencer, held up our arms, had our pockets run through 
and our clothing felt over from head to heel, and were exon- 
erated. When Csesar came to Jean Caesar's eyes lighted, and 
Caesar's hitherto perfunctory proddings and pokings became 
inspired and methodical. Twice he went over Jean's entire 
body, while Jean, his arms raised in a bored gesture, his face 
completely expressionless., suffered loftily the examination of 
his person. A third time the desperate Fencer tried; his 
hands, starting at Jean's neck, reached the calf of his leg — 
and stopped. The hands rolled up Jean's right trouser-leg to 
the knee. They rolled up the underwear on his leg — and there, 
placed perfectly flat to the skin, appeared the missing serviette. 
As the Fencer seized it, Jean laughed — Uie utter laughter of 
old days — and the onlookers cackled uproariously, while, with 
a broad smile, the Fencer proclaimed: "I thought I knew 
where I should find it." And he added, more pleased with 
himself than anyone had ever seen him: "Maintenant, vous 
pouves tons monies d, la chamhre." We mounted, happy to 
get back to bed ; but none so happy as Jean le Negre. It was 
not that the cabinot threat had failed to materialize — at any 
minute a planton might call Jean to his punishment: indeed 
this was what everyone expected. It was that the incident 
had absolutely removed that inhibition which (from the day 
when Jean le now became Jean le geant) had held the child, 
which was Jean's soul and destiny, prisoner. From that in- 

238 The Enormous Room 

stant till the day I left him he was the old Jean — joking, fib- 
bing, laughing, and always playing — ^Jean L'Enfant. 

And I think of Jean le Negte . . . you' are something to 
dream over, Jean; summer and winter (birds and darkness) 
you go walking into my head ; you are a sudden and chocolate- 
colored thing, in your hands you have a habit of holding six 
or eight plant ons (which you are about to throw away) and 
the flesh of your body is like the flesh of a very deep cigar. 
Which I am still and always quietly smoking : always and still 
I am inhaling its very fragrant and remarkable muscles. But 
I doubt if ever I am quite through with you, if ever I will toss 
you out of my heart into the sawdust of forgetfulness. Kid, 
Boy, I'd like to tell you : la guerre est finie. 

O yes, Jean : I do not forget, I remember Plenty ; the snow's 
coming, the snow will throw again a very big and gentle 
shadow into The Enormous Room and into the eyes of you 
and me walking always and wonderfully up and down. . . . 

— Boy, Kid, Nigger, with the strutting muscles — take me up 
into your mind once or twice before I die (you know why: 
just because the eyes of me and you will be full of dirt some 
day) . Quickly take me up into the bright child of your mind, 
before we both go suddenly all loose and sillv (you know how 
it will feel). Take me up (carefully, as if T were a toy) and 
play carefully with me, once or twice, before I and you go 
suddenly all limp and foolish. Once or twice before you go 
into great Jack roses and ivory — (once or twice. Boy, before 
we together go wonderfully down into the Big Dirt laughing, 
bumped with the last darkness). 




It must have been late in November when la commission 
arrived. La commission, as I have said, visited La Ferte 
every three months. That is to say, B. and I (by arriving 
when we did) had just escaped its clutches. I consider this 
one of the luckiest things in my life. 

La commission arrived one morning, and began work im- 

A list was made of les hommes who were to pass la comr- 
mission, another of les femmes. These lists were given to the 
plant on with the Wooden Hand. In order to avert any delay, 
those of the men whose names fell in the first half of the list 
were not allowed to enjoy the usual stimulating activities af- 
forded by La Ferte*s supreme environment : they were, in fact, 
confined to The Enormous Room, subject to instant call — more- 
over they were not called one by one, or as their respective 
turns came, but in groups of three or four ; the idea being that 
la commission should suffer no smallest annoyance which might 
be occasioned by loss of time. There were always, in other 
words, eight or ten men waiting in the upper corridor opposite a 
disagreeably crisp door, which door belonged to that mysterious 
room wherein la commission transacted its inestimable af- 
fairs. Not more than a couple of yards away ten or eight 
women waited their turns. Conversation between the men and 
the women had been forbidden in the fiercest terms by Mon- 
sieur le Directeur: nevertheless conversation spasmodically 
occurred, thanks to the indulgent nature of the Wooden Hand. 
The Wooden Hand must have been cuckoo — ^he looked it. If 


240 The Enormous Room 

he wasn't I am totally at a loss to account for his indulgence. 

B. and I spent a morning in The Enormous Room without 
results, an astonishing acquisition of nervousness excepted. 
Apres la soupe (noon) we were conducted en haut, told to 
leave our spoons and bread (which we did) and — in company 
with several others whose names were within a furlong of the 
last man called — were descended to the corridor. All that aft- 
ernoon we waited. Also we waited all next morning. We 
spent our time talking quietly with a buxom pink-cheeked Bel- 
gian girl who was in attendance as translator for one of les 
femmes. This Belgian told us that she was a permanent in- 
habitant of La Ferte, that she and another femme honnette 
occupied a room by themselves, that her brothers were at the 
front in Belgium, that her ability to speak fluently several lan- 
guages (including English and German) made her invaluable 
to Messieurs la commission, that she had committed no crime, 
that she was held as a suspecfe, that she was not entirely un- 
happy. She struck me immediately as being not only intelli- 
gent but alive. She questioned us in excellent English as to 
our offences, and seemed much pleased to discover that we 
were — ^to all appearances — innocent of wrong-doing. 

From time to time our subdued conversation was interrupted 
by admonitions from the amiable Wooden Hand. Twice the 
door SLAMMED open, and Monsieur le Directeur bounced 
out, frothing at the mouth and threatening everyone with in- 
finite cabinot, on the ground that everyone's deportment or 
lack of it was menacing the aplomb of the commissioners. 
Each time, the Black Holster appeared in the background and 
carried on his master's bullying until everyone was completely 
terrified — after which we were left to ourselves and the 
Wooden Hand once again. 

B. and I were allowed by the latter individual — he was that 
day, at least, an individual not merely a planton — to peek 
over his shoulder at the men's list. The Wooden Hand even 
went so far as to escort our editions minds to the nearness of 
their examination by the simple yet efficient method of placing 
one of his human fingers opposite the name of him who was 


Three Wise Men 241 

(even at that moment) within, submitting to the inexorable 
justice oi le gouvernement frangais. I cannot honestly say that 
the discovery of this proximity of ourselves to our respective 
fates wholly pleased us ; yet we were so weary of waiting that 
it certainly did not wholly terrify us. All in all, I think I have 
never been so utterly un-at-ease as while waiting for the axe 
to fall, metaphorically speaking, upon our squawking heads. 

We were still conversing with the Belgian girl when a man 
came out of the door unsteadily, looking as if he had submitted 
to several strenuous fittings of a wooden leg upon a stump not 
quite healed. The Wooden Hand, nodding at B., remarked 
hurriedly in a low voice: 

And B. (smiling at La Beige and at me) entered. He was fol- 
lowed by The Wooden Hand, as I suppose for greater security. 

The next twenty minutes, or whatever it was, were by far 
the most nerve-racking which I had as yet experienced. La 
Beige said to me : 

'7/ est gentil, voire ami" 
and I agreed. And my blood was bombarding the roots of my 
toes and the summits of my hair. 

After (I need not say) two or three million seons, B. 
emerged. I had not time to exchange a look with him— let 
alone a word— for the Wooden Hand said from the doorway : 

"Allez, V autre americain" 
and I entered in more confusion than can easily be imagined ; 
entered the torture chamber, entered the inquisition, entered 
the tentacles of that sly and beaming polyp, le gouvernement 
frangais. . . . 

As I entered I said, half-aloud : The thing is this, to look 
'em in the eyes and keep cool whatever happens, not for the 
fraction of a moment forgetting that they are made of merde, 
that they are all of them composed entirely of merde — I don't 
know how many inquisitors I expected to see ; but I guess I 
was ready for at least fifteen, among them President Poincare 
Lui-meme. I hummed noiselessly : 

242 The Enormous Room 

'^si vous passes par ma vil-le 
n*ouhliez pas ma madson; 

on y m^ang-e de bonne sou-pe Ton Ton Tay-ne; 
faite de merde et les onions, Ton Ton Tayne Ton Ton 

remembering the fine forger on of Chevancourt who used to 
sing this, or something very like it, upon a table, — entirely 
for the benefit of les deux americains, who would subse- 
quently render "Eats uh lonje wae to Tee-pear-raer-ee," wholly 
for the gratification of a roomful of what Mr. Anderson liked 
to call "them bastards," alias "dirty" Frenchmen, alias les 
poilus, les poihis divins. . . . 

A little room. The Directeur's office? Or The Surveillant's ? 
Comfort. O yes, very, very comfortable. On my right a table. 
At the table three persons. Reminds me of Noyon a bit, not 
unpleasantly of course. Three persons: reading from left to 
right as I face them — a soggy, sleep, slumpy lump in a gen- 
darme's cape and cap, quite old, captain of gendarmes, not at 
all interested, wrinkled coarse face, only semi-me chant, large 
hard clumsy hands, floppingly disposed on table; wily tidy 
man in civilian clothes, pen in hand, obviously lawyer, avocat 
type, little bald on top, sneaky civility, smells of bad perfume 
or, at any rate, sweetish soap; tiny red-headed person, also 
civilian, creased worrying excited face, amusing little body and 
hands, brief and jumpy, must be a Dickens character, ought 
to spend his time sailing kites of his own construction over 
other people's houses in gusty weather. Behind the Three, all 
tied up with deference and inferiority, mild and spineless, 

Would the reader like to know what I was asked? 

Ah, would I could say! Only dimly do I remember those 
moment — only dimly do I remember looking through the lawyer 
at ApoIIyon's clean collar — only dimly do I remember the grad- 
ual collapse of the captain of gendarmes, his slow but sure as- 
sumption of sleepfulness, the drooping of his soggy tete de 
cochon lower and lower till it encountered one hand whose el- 


Three Wise Men 243 

bow, braced firmly upon the table, sustained its insensate limp- 
ness^ — only dimly do I remember the enthusiastic antics of the 
little red-head when I spoke with patriotic fervor of the 
wrongs which La France was doing mon ami et moi — only 
dimly do I remember, to my right, the immobility of The 
Wooden Hand, reminding one of a clothing dummy, or a life- 
size doll which might be made to move only by him who 
knew the proper combination. ... At the outset I was asked : 
Did I want a translator? I looked and saw the secretaire, 
weak-eyed and lemon-pale, and I said "Non." I was ques- 
tioned mostly by the avocat, somewhat by the Dickens, never 
by either the captain (who was asleep) or the Directeur (who 
was timid in the presence of these great and good delegates of 
hope, faith and charity per the French government). I recall 
that, for some reason, I was perfectly cool. I put over six or 
eight hot shots without losing in the least this composure, 
which surprised myself and pleased myself and altogether in- 
creased myself. As the questions came for me I met them 
half-way, spouting my best or worst French in a manner 
which positively astonished the tiny red-headed demigod. I 
challenged with my eyes and with my voice and with my man- 
ner Apollyon Himself, and Apollyon Himself merely cuddled 
together, depressing his hairy body between its limbs as a 
spider sometimes does in the presence of danger. I expressed 
immense gratitude to my captors and to le gouvernement fran- 
gais for allowing me to see and hear and taste and smell and 
touch the things which inhabited La Ferte Mace, Orne, 
France. I do not think that la commission enjoyed me much. 
It told me, through its sweetish-soap leader, that my friend 
was a criminal — ^this immediately upon my entering — and I 
told it with a great deal of well-chosen politeness that I dis- 
agreed. In telling how and why I disagreed I think I managed 
to shove my shovel-shaped imagination under the refuse of 
their intellects. At least once or twice. 

Rather fatiguing— to stand up and be told : Your friend is 
no good ; have you anything to say for yourself ? — And to say 

244 'The Enormous Room 

a great deal for yourself and for your friend and for les 
hommes — or try your best to — and be contradicted, and be told 
*'Never mind that, what we wish to know is," and instructed 
to keep to the subject, et cetera, ad infinitum. At last they 
asked each other if each other wanted to ask the man before 
each other anything more, and each other not wanting to do 
so, they said: 

As at Noyon, I had made an indisputably favorable impres- 
sion upon exactly one of my three examiners. I refer, in the 
present case, to the red-headed little gentleman who was rather 
decent to me. I do not exactly salute him in recognition of this 
decency ; I bow to him, as I might bow to somebody who said 
he was sorry he couldn't give me a match, but there was a 
cigar store just around the corner, you know. 

At "C'est fini'\the Directeur leaped into the lime-light with 
a savage admonition to the Wooden Hand — who saluted, 
opened the door suddenly, and looked at me with (dare I say 
it?) admiration. Instead of availing myself of this means of 
escape I turned to the little kite-flying gentleman and said : 

"If you please, sir, will you be so good as to tell me what 
will become of my friend?" 

The little kite-flying gentleman did not have time to reply, 
for the perfumed presence stated dryly and distinctly : 

"We cannot say anything to you upon that point." 

I gave him a pleasant smile, which said. If I could see your 
intestines very slowly embracing a large wooden drum rotated 
by means of a small iron crank turned gently and softly by 
myself, I should be extraordinary happy — and I bowed softly 
and gently to Monsieur le Directeur, and I went through the 
door using all the perpendicular inches which God had given 

Once outside I began to tremble like a peuplier in Vautomne 
. . . "Uautomne humide et monotone." 

— "Alles en has, pour la sotipe" the Wooden Hand said not 
unkindlv. I looked about me. "There will be no more men 

Three Wise Men 245 

before the commission until to-morrow," the Wooden Hand 
said. "Go get your dinner in the kitchen." 

I descended. 

Afrique was all curiosity — ^what did they say? what did I 
say ? — as he placed before me a huge, a perfectly huge, an in- 
excusably huge plate of something more than luke-warm 
grease. . . . B. and I ate at a very little table in la cuisine, 
excitedly comparing notes as we swallowed the red-hot stuff. 
. . . ''Du pain; prenez, mes amis,'* Afrique said. ''Manges 
comme voiis voules," the Cook quoth benignantly, with a 
glance at us over his placid shoulder. . . . Eat we most surely 
did. We could have eaten the French government. 

The morning of the following day we went on promenade 
once more. It was neither pleasant nor unpleasant to prom- 
enade in the cour while somebody else was suffering in the 
Room of Sorrow. It was, in fact, rather thrilling. 

The afternoon of this day we were all up in The Enormous 
Room when la commission suddenly entered with Apollyon 
strutting and lisping behind it, explaining, and poopoohing, 
and graciously waving his thick wicked arms. 

Everyone in The Enormous Room leaped to his feet, remov- 
ing as he did so his hat — with the exception of les deux 
americains, who kept theirs on, and The Zulu, who couldn't 
find his hat and had been trying for some time to stalk it to 
its lair. La commission reacted interestingly to The Enormous 
Room: the captain of gendarmes looked soggily around and 
saw nothing with a good deal of contempt; the scented soap 
squinted up his face and said, "Faugh !" or whatever a French 
bourgeois avocat says in the presence of a bad smell {la com- 
mission was standing by the door and consequently close to 
the cabinet). 

And the red-headed man, as I recollect, was contemplating 
the floor by the door, where six pails of urine solemnly stood, 
three of them having overflowed slightly from time to time 
upon the reeking planks . . . And The Directeur was told 
that les hommes should have a tin trough to urinate into, for 

246 The Enormous Room 

the sake of sanitation; and that this trough should be Imme- 
diately installed, installed without delay— "O yes, indeed, 
sirs," Apollyon simpered, "a very good suggestion ; it shall be 
done immediately : yes, indeed. Do let me show you the — it's 

just outside " and he bowed them out with no little skill. 

And the door SLAMMED behind Apollyon and the Three 
Wise Men. 

This, as I say, must have occurred toward the last of No- 

For a week we waited. 

Fritz, having waited months for a letter from the Danish 
consul in reply to the letters which; he, Fritz, wrote every so 
often and sent through le bureau — meaning the secretaire — 
had managed to get news of his whereabouts to said consul by 
unlawful means ; and was immediately, upon reception of this 
news by the consul, set free and invited to join a ship at the 
nearest port. His departure (than which a more joyous I 
have never witnessed) has been already mentioned in connec- 
tion with the third Delectable Mountain, as has been the de- 
parture for Precigne of Pom Pom and Harree ensemble. Bill 
the Hollander, Monsieur Pet-airs, Mexique, The Wanderer, 
the little Machine-Fixer, Pete, Jean Negre, The Zulu and 
Monsieur Auguste (second time) were some of our remaining 
friends who passed the commission with us. Along with our- 
selves and these fine people were judged gentlemen like the 
Trick Raincoat and the Fighting Sheeney. One would think, 
possibly, that Justice — in the guise of the Three Wise Men — 
would have decreed different fates, to (say) The Wanderer 
and The Fighting Sheeney. Au confraire. As I have pre- 
viously remarked, the ways of God and of the good and great 
French government are alike inscrutable. 

Bill the Hollander, whom we had grown to like, whereas at 
first we were inclined to fear him, Bill the Hollander who 
washed some towels and handkerchiefs and what-nots for us 
and turned them a bright pink. Bill the Hollander who had 
tried so hard to teach The Young Pole the lesson which he 


Three Wise Men 247 

could only learn from The Fighting Sheeney, left us about a 
week after la comtmssion. As I understand it, they decided to 
send him back to Holland under guard in order that he might 
be jailed in his native land as a deserter. It is beautiful to 
consider the unselfishness of le gouvernement frangais in this 
case. Much as le gouvernement frangais would have liked to 
have punished Bill on its own account and for its own enjoy- 
ment, it gave him up — with a Christian smile — to the punishing 
clutches of a sister or brother government : without a murmur 
denying itself the incense of his sufferings and the music of 
his sorrows. Then too it is really inspiring to note the per- 
fect collaboration of /a justice frangaise and la justice hollan- 
daise in a critical moment of the world's history. Bill cer- 
tainly should feel that it was a great honor to be allowed to 
exemplify this wonderful accord^ this exquisite mutual under- 
standing, between the punitive departments of two nations su- 
perficially somewhat unrelated — that is, as regards customs and 
language. I fear Bill didn't appreciate the intrinsic usefulness 
of his destiny. I seem to remember that he left in a rather 
Gottverdummerish condition. Such is ignorance. 

Poor Monsieur Pet-airs came out of the commission look- 
ing extraordinarily epate. Questioned, he averred that his 
penchant for inventing force-pumps had prejudiced ces mes- 
sieurs in his disfavor ; and shook his poor old head and sniffed 
hopelessly. Mexique exited in a placidly cheerful condition, 
shrugging his shoulders and remarking : 

"I no do nut'ing. Dese fellers tell me wait few days, after 
you go free," whereas Pete looked white and determined and 
said little — except in Dutch to the Young Skipper and his 
mate ; which pair took la commission more or less as a healthy 
bull calf takes nourishment: there was little doubt that they 
would refind la liberie in a short while, judging from the in- 
ability of the Three Wise Men to prove them even suspicious 
characters. The Zulu uttered a few inscrutable gestures made 
entirely of silence and said he would like us to celebrate the 
accomplishment of this ordeal by buying ourselves and himself 

248 The Enormous Room 

a good fat cheese apiece — his friend The Youn^ Pole looked as 
if the ordeal had scared the life out of him temporarily; he 
was unable to say whether or no he and ^^mon ami" would 
leave us : la commission had adopted, in the case of these 
twain, an awe-inspiring- taciturnity. Jean Le Negre, who was 
one of the last to pass, had had a tremendously exciting time, 
due to the fact that le gouvernement frangais's polished tools 
had failed to scratch his mystery either in French or English — 
he came dancing and singing toward us; then, suddenly sup- 
pressing every vestige of emotion, solemnly extended for our 
approval a small scrap of paper on which was written: 


remarking: "Qu'es-ce que ga veut diref* — and when we read 
the word for him, "m'en vais a Calais, moi, travailler a Calais, 
tres honT — with a jump and a shout of laughter pocketing the 
scrap and beginning the Song of Songs : 

"aprds la guerre finit. ..." 

A trio which had been hit and hard hit by the Three Wise 
Men were, or was, The Wanderer and the Machine-Fixer and 
Monsieur Auguste — ^the former having been insulted in respect 
to Chocolat's mother (who also occupied the witness-stand) 
and having retaliated, as nearly as we could discover, with a 
few remarks straight from the shoulder a propos Justice (O 
Wanderer, did you expect honor among the honorable?) ; the 
Machine-Fixer having been told to shut up in the midst of a 
passionate plea for mercy, or at least fair-play, if not in his 
own case in the case of the wife who was crazed by his ab- 
sence ; Monsieur Auguste having been asked (as he had been 
asked three months before by the honorable commissioners), 
Why did you not return to Russia with your wife and your 
child at the outbreak of the war? — and having replied, with 
tears in his eyes and that gentle ferocity of which he was occa- 
sionally capable : 

"Be-cause I didn't have the means. I am not a mil-lion- 
aire. Sirs." 

The Baby-Snatcher, the Trick Raincoat, the Messenger Boy, 


Three Wise Men 249 

the Fighting Sheeney and similar gentry passed the commis- 
sion without the sHghtest apparent effect upon their disagree- 
able personalities. 

It was not long after Bill the Hollander's departure that we 
lost two Delectable Mountains in The Wanderer and Surplice. 
Remained The Zulu and Jean Le Negre. . . . B. and I spent 
most of our time when on promenade collecting rather beauti- 
fully hued leaves in la cour. These leaves we inserted in one 
of my notebooks, along with all the colors which we could 
find on cigarette boxes, chocolate wrappers, labels of various 
sorts and even postage stamps. (We got a very brilliant red 
from a certain piece of cloth.) Our efforts puzzled everyone 
(including the plantons) more than considerably; which was 
natural, considering that everyone did not know that by this 
exceedingly simple means we were effecting a study of color 
itself, in relation to what is popularly called "abstract" and 
sometimes "non-representative" painting. Despite their nat- 
ural puzzlement everyone (plantons excepted) was extraordi- 
narily kind and brought us often valuable additions to our 
chromatic collection. Had I, at this moment and in the city 
of New York, the complete confidence of one-twentieth as 
m^ny human beings I should not be so inclined to consider 
^tie Great American Public as the most aesthetically incapable 
organization ever created for the purpose of perpetuating de- 
funct ideals and ideas. But of course The Great American 
Public has a handicap which my friends at La Ferte did not 
as a rule have — education. Let no one sound his indignant 
yawp at this. I refer to the fact that, for an educated gent or 
lady, to create is first of all to destroy — that there is and can 
be no such thing as authentic art until the bons trues (whereby 
we are taught to see and imitate on canvas and in stone and 
by words this so-called world) are entirely and thoroughly and 
perfectly annihilated by that vast and painful process of Un- 
thinking which may result in a minute bit of purely personal 
Feeling. Which minute bit is ArtJ 

Ah well, the revolution — I refer of course to the intelligent 
revolution — is on the way; is perhaps nearer than some think, 

2^0 The Enormous Room 


is possibly knocking at the front doors of The Great Mist< 
Harold Bell Wright and The Great Little Miss Polyanna. In 
the course of the next ten thousand years it may be possible 
to find Delectable Mountains without going to prison — cap- 
tivity, I mean, Monsieur Le Surveillant — it may be possible, 
I daresay, to encounter Delectable Mountains who are not in 
prison. . . . 

The Autumn wore on. 

Rain did, from time to time, not fall : from time to time a 
sort of unhealthy almost-light leaked from the large uncrisp 
corpse of the sky, returning for a moment to our view the 
ruined landscape. From time to time the eye, travelling care- 
fully with a certain disagreeable suddenly fear no longer dis- 
tances of air, coldish and sweet, stopped upon the incredible 
nearness of the desolate without motion autumn. Awkward 
and solemn clearness, making louder the unnecessary cries, the 
hoarse laughter, of the invisible harlots in their muddy yard, 
pointing a cool actual finger at the silly and ferocious group 
of manshaped beings huddled in the mud under four or five 
little trees, came strangely in my own mind pleasantly to sug- 
gest the ludicrous and hideous and beautiful antics of the 
insane. Frequently I would discover so perfect a command 
over myself as to reduce la promenade easily to a recently 
invented mechanism ; or to the demonstration of a collection of 
vivid and unlovely toys around and around which, guarding 
them with impossible heroism, funnily moved purely unreal 
plantons always absurdly marching, the maimed and stupid 
dolls of my imagination. Once I was sitting alone on the long 
beam of silent iron and suddenly had the gradual complete 
unique experience of death. . . . 

It became amazingly cold. 

One evening B. and myself and, I think, it was the Machine- 
Fixer, were partaking of the warmth of a bougie hard by and, 
in fact, between our ambulance beds, when the door opened, 
a plant on entered, and a list of names (none of which we 
recognized) was hurriedly read off with (as in the case of the 

Three Wise Men 251 

last partis, including The Wanderer and Surplice) the ad- 
monition : 

*'Be ready to leave early to-morrow morning." 
— and the door shut loudly and quickly. Now one of the 
names which had been called sounded somewhat like "Broom," 
and a strange inquietude seized us on this account. Could it 
possibly have been "B."? We made inquiries of certain 
of our friends who had been nearer the plant on than our- 
selves. We were told that Pete and The Trick Raincoat and 
The Fighting Sheeney and Rocky feller were leaving — about 
"B." nobody was able to enlighten us. Not that opinions 
in this matter were lacking. There was plenty of opinions — 
but they contradicted each other to a painful extent. Les 
hommes were in fact about equally divided; half considering 
that the occult sound had been intended for "B.," half 
that the somewhat asthmatic plant on had unwittingly uttered 
a spontaneous grunt or sigh, which sigh or grunt we had mis- 
taken for a proper noun. Our uncertainty was augmented by 
the confusion emanating from a particular corner of The 
Enormous Room, in which corner The Fighting Sheeney was 
haranguing a group of spectators on the pregnant topic: 
What I won't do to Precigne when I get there. In deep con- 
verse with Bath-house John we beheld the very same youth 
who, some time since, had drifted to a place beside me at la 
soupe — Pete The Ghost, white and determined, blond and fra- 
gile: Pete the Shadow. . . . 

I forget who, but someone — I think it was the little Machine- 
Fixer — established the truth that an American was to leave the 
next morning. That, moreover, said American's name was 

Whereupon B. and I became extraordinarily busy. 

The Zulu and Jean Le Negre, upon learning that B. was 
among the partis, came over to our beds and sat down without 
uttering a word. The former, through a certain shy orches- 
tration of silence, conveyed effortlessly and perfectly his sor- 
row at the departure ; the latter, by his bowed head and a cer- 

252 The Enormous Room 

tain very delicate restraint manifested in the wholly exquisite 
poise of his firm alert body, uttered at least a universe of 

The little Machine-Fixer was extremely indignant ; not only 
that his friend was going to a den of thieves and ruffians, but 
that his friend was leaving in such company as that of ce 
crapule (meaning Rocky feller) and les deux mangeurs de 
llanc (to wit, The Trick Raincoat and The Fighting Sheeney). 
*'c*est malheureux" he repeated over and over, wagging his 
poor little head in rage and despair — "it's no place for a young 
man who has done no wrong, to be shut up with pimps and cut- 
throats, pour la duree de la guerre; le gouvernement frangais 
a bien fait!" and he brushed a tear out of his eye with a des- 
perate rapid brittle gesture. . . . But what angered the Ma- 
chine-Fixer most was that B. and I were about to be sepa- 
rated — "M'sieu* Jean'' (touching me gently on the knee) 
"they have no hearts, la commission; they are not simply un- 
just, they are cruel, savez-vousf Men are not like these; they 
are not men, they are Name of God I don't know what, they 
are worse than the animals; and they pretend to Justice" 
(shivering from top to toe with an indescribable sneer) "Jus- 
tice ! My God, Justice !" 

All of which, somehow or other, did not exactly cheer us. 

And, the packing completed, we drank together for The Last 
Time. The Zulu and Jean Le Negre and the Machine Fixer 
and B. and I — and Pete The Shadow drifted over, whiter than 
I think I ever saw him, and said simply to me : 

"I'll take care o' your friend, Johnny." 
. . . and then at last it was lumieres eteintes; and les deux 
americains lay in their beds in the cold rotten darkness, talk- 
ing in low voices of the past, of Petroushka, of Paris, of that 
brilliant and extraordinary and impossible something: Life, 

Morning. Whitish. Inevitable. Deathly cold. 
There was a great deal of hurry and bustle in The Enor- 
mous Room. People were rushing hither and thither in the 

Three Wise Men' 253 

heavy half -darkness. People were saying good-bye to people. 
Saying good-bye to friends. Saying good-bye to themselves. 
We lay and sipped the black evil dull certainly not coffee ; lay 
on our beds, dressed, shuddering with cold, waiting. Wait- 
ing. Several of les hommes whom we scarcely knew came up 
to B. and shook hands with him and said good luck and good- 
bye. The darkness was going rapidly out of the dull black 
evil stinking air. B. suddenly realized that he had no gift for 
The Zulu; he asked a fine Norwegian to whom he had given 
his leather belt if he, the Norwegian, would mind giving it 
back, because there was a very dear friend who had been for- 
gotten. The Norwegian, with a pleasant smile, took off the 
belt and said "Certainly" ... he had been arrested at Bor- 
deaux, where he came ashore from his ship, for stealing three 
cans of sardines when he was drunk ... a very great and 
dangerous criminal ... he said ''Certainly," and gave B. a^ 
pleasant smile, the pleasantest smile in the world. B. wrote 
his own address and name in the inside of the belt, explained 
in French to The Young Pole that any time The Zulu wanted 
to reach him all he had to do was to consult the belt; The 
Young Pole translated; the Zulu nodded; The Norwegian 
smiled appreciatively; the Zulu received the belt with a ges- 
ture to which words cannot do the faintest justice — 

A planton was standing in The Enormous Room, a planton 
roaring and cursing and crying, *'Hurry, those who are going 
to go." — B. shook hands with Jean and Mexique and the Ma- 
chine-Fixer and the Young Skipper, and Bath-house John (to 
whom he had given his ambulance tunic, and who was crazy- 
proud in consequence) and the Norwegian and the Washing 
Machine Man and The Hat and many of les hommes whom 
we scarcely knew. — ^The Black Holster was roaring. 

"Alles, nom de dieu, Vamerician!" 
I went down the room with B. and Pete, and shook hands 
with both at the door. The other partis, alias The Trick Rain- 
coat and The Fighting Sheeney, were already on the way 
downstairs. The Black Holster cursed us and me in particu- 
lar and slammed the door angrily in my face — 

254 I'he Enormous Room 

Through the little peephole I caught a glimpse of them, en- 
tering the street. I went to my bed and lay down quietly in 
my great pelisse. The clamor and filth of the room brightened 
and became distant and faded. I heard the voice of the 
jolly Alsatian saying: 

^'Courage, mon ami, your comrade is not dead; you will 
see him later," and after that, nothing. In front of and on 
and within my eyes lived suddenly a violent and gentle and 
dark silence. 

The Three Wise Men had done their work. But wisdom can- 
not rest. . . . 

Probably at that very moment they were holding their court 
in another La Ferte committing to incomparable anguish some 
few merely perfectly wretched criminals : little and tall, tremu- 
lous and brave — all of them white and speechless, all of them 
with tight bluish lips and large whispering eyes, all of them 
with fingers weary and mutilated and extraordinarily old . . . 
desperate fingers; closing, to feel the final luke-warm frag- 
ment of life glide neatly and softly into forgetfulness. 




To convince the reader that this history is mere fiction (and 
rather vulgarly violent fiction at that) nothing perhaps is 
needed save that ancient standby of sob-story writers and 
thrill-artists alike — the Happy Ending. As a matter of fact, 
it makes not the smallest difference to me whether anyone who 
has thus far participated in my travels does or does not be- 
lieve that they and I are (as that mysterious animal, "the 
public" would say) "real." I do, however, very strenuously 
(Object to the assumption, on the part of anyone, that the head- 
ing of this, my final, chapter stands for anything in the nature 
of happiness. In the course of recalling (in God knows a 
rather clumsy and perfectly inadequate way) what happened 
to me between the latter part of August, 1917, and the first 
of January, 1918, I have proved to my own satisfaction (if 
not to anyone else's) that I^ wasjhappier in La Ferte Mace, 
with The Delectable MountainTabout me, than the very keen- 
est words can pretend to express. I daresay it all comes down 
to a definition of happiness. And a definition of happiness I 
most certainly do not intend to attempt; but I can and will 
say this : to leave La Miser e with the knowledge, and worse 
than that the feeling, that some of the finest people in the 
world are doomed to remain prisoners thereof for no one 
knows how long — are doomed to continue, possibly for years 
and tens of years and all the years which terribly are between 
them and their deaths, the grey and indivisible Non-existence 
which without apology you are quitting for Realityr-rrcanngt 
by any stretch of the imagination be conceived as constituting 
a Happy Ending to a great and personal adventure. That I 

2^6 The Enormous Room 

write this chapter at all is due, purely and simply, to the, I 
daresay, unjustified hope on my part that — ^by recording cer- 
tain events — it may hurl a little additional light into a very 
tremendous darkness. ... 

At the outset let me state that what occurred subsequent to 
the departure for Precigne of B. and Pete and The Shee'neys 
and Rockyfeller is shrouded in a rather ridiculous indistinct- 
ness; due, I have to admit, to the depression which this de- 
parture inflicted upon my altogether too human nature. The 
judgment of the Three Wise Men had — ^to use a peculiarly 
vigorous (not to say vital) expression of my own day and 
time — ^knocked me for a loop. I spent the days intervening 
between the separation from ''voire comarade" and my some- 
what supernatural departure for freedom in attempting to 
partially straighten myself. When finally I made my exit, the 
part of me popularly referred to as "mind" was still in a 
slightly bent if not twisted condition. Not until some weeks 
of American diet had revolutionized my exterior did my in- 
terior completely resume the contours of normality. I am par- 
ticularly neither ashamed nor proud of this (one might nearly 
say) mental catastrophe. No more ashamed or proud, in fact, 
than of the infection of three fingers which I carried to 
America as a little token of La Ferte's good-will. In the latter 
case I certainly have no right to boast, even should I find my- 
self so inclined; for B. took with him to Precigne a case of 
what his father, upon B.'s arrival in The Home of The Brave, 
diagnosed as scurvy — which scurvy made my mutilations look 
like thirty cents or even less. One of my vividest memories 
of La Ferte consists in a succession of crackling noises asso- 
ciated with the disrobing of my friend. I recall that we ap- 
pealed to Monsieur Ree-chard together, B. in behalf of his 
scurvy and I in behalf of my hand plus a queer little row of 
sores, the latter having proceeded to adorn that part of my 
face which was trying hard to be graced with a mustache. I 
recall that Monsieur Ree-chard decreed a bain for B., which 
bain meant immersion in a large tin tub partially filled with 
not quite luke-warm water. I, on the contrary, obtained a 

I Say Good-Bye to La Misere 257 

speck of zinc ointment on a minute piece of cotton, and con- 
sidered myself peculiarly fortunate. Which details cannot pos- 
sibly offend the reader's aesthetic sense to a greater degree than 
have already certain minutse connected with the sanitary ar- 
rangements of The Directeur's little home for homeless boys 
and girls — ^therefore I will not trouble to beg the reader's 
pardon ; but will proceed with my story proper or improper. 

''Mais qn^eS'Ce que votis avez" Monsieur le Surveillant de- 
manded, in a tone of profound if kindly astonishment, as I 
wended my lonely way to la soupe some days after the dis- 
appearance of les partis. 

I stood and stared at him very stupidly without answering, 
having indeed nothing at all to say. 

"But why are you so sad?" he asked. 

"I suppose I miss my friend," I ventured. 

"Mais — mais '' he puffed and panted like a very old and 

fat person trying to persuade a bicycle to' climb a hill — ''mats 
— vous avez de la chancel" 

"I suppose I have," I said without enthusiasm. 

"Mais — mais — parfaitement — vous avez de la chance — uh- 
ah — uh-ah — parceque — comprenez-vous — votre comarade — uh- 
ah — a attrape prison!" 

*'Uh-ah!" I said wearily. 

"Whereas," continued Monsieur, "you haven't. You ought 
to be extraordinarily thankful and particularly happy!" 

"I should rather have gone to prison with my friend," I 
stated briefly ; and went into the dining-room, leaving the Sur- 
veillant uh-ahing in nothing short of complete amazement. 

I really believe that my condition worried him, incredible 
as this may seen. At the time I gave neither an extraordi- 
nary nor a particular damn about Monsieur le Surveillant, nor 
indeed about "I'autre Americain" alias myself. Dimly, 
through a fog of disinterested inapprehension, I realized that 
— with the exception of the plant ons and, of course, Apollyon 
— everyone was trying very hard to help me ; that The Zulu, 
Jean, The Machine-Fixer, Mexique, The Young Skipper, even 
The Washing Machine Man (with whom I promenaded fre- 

258 The Enormous Room 

quently when no one else felt like taking the completely un- 
agreeable air) were kind, very kind, kinder than I can possi- 
bly say. As for Afrique and The Cook — ^there was nothing 
too good for me at this time. I asked the latter's permission 
to cut wood, and was not only accepted as a sawyer, but en- 
couraged with assurances of the best coffee there was, with 
real sugar dedans. In the little space outside the cuisine, be- 
tween the building and la cour, I sawed away of a morning 
to my great satisfaction; from time to time clumping my 
saboted way into the chefs domain in answer to a subdued 
signal from Afrique. Of an afternoon I sat with Jean or 
Mexique or The Zulu on the long beam of silent iron, ponder- 
ing very carefully nothing at all, replying to their questions 
or responding to their observations in a highly mechanical 
manner. I felt myself to be, at last, a doll — taken out occa- 
sionally and played with and put back into its house and told 
to go to sleep. . . . 

One afternoon I was lying on my couch, thinking of the 
usual Nothing, when a sharp cry sung through The Enor- 
mous Room: 

'7/ tombe de la neige — Noel! Noel!" 

I sat up. The Guard Champetre was at the nearest window, 
dancing a little horribly and crying: 

"Noel! Noel!" 

I went to another window and looked out. Sure enough. 
Snow was falling, gradually and wonderfully falling, silently 
falling through the thick soundless autumn. ... It seemed 
to me supremely beautiful, the snow. There was about it 
something unspeakably crisp and exquisite, something perfect 
and minute and gentle and fatal. . . . The Guard Champetre's 
cry began a poem in the back of my head, a poem about the 
snow, a poem in French, beginning // tombe de la neige, Noel, 
Noel. I watched the snow. After a long time I returned to 
my bunk and I lay down, closing my eyes ; feeling the snow's 
minute and crisp touch falling gently and exquisitely, falling 
perfectly and suddenly, through the thick soundless autumn 
of my imagination. . . . 

I Say Good-Bye to La Misere 259 

'^Uamericain ! Uamericain !" 

Someone is speaking to me. 

*'Le petit beige avec le bras casse est la-bas, d la porie, il 
veut parler. ..." 

I marched the length of the room. The Enormous Room is 
filled with a new and beautiful darkness, the darkness of the 
snow outside, falling and falling and falling with the silent 
and actual gesture which has touched the soundless country 
of my mind as a child touches a toy it loves. ... 

Through the locked door I heard a nervous whisper : "Dis a 
Vamericain que je veux parler avec lui" — "Me void/' I said. 

"Put your ear to the key-hole, M'sieu* Jean" said the Ma- 
chine-Fixer's voice. The voice of the little Machine-Fixer, 
tremendously excited. I obey — "Alors. Qu*es-ce que c'esf, 
mon ami?" 

"M'sieu* Jean! Le Direct eur va vous appder tout de suite! 
You must get ready instantly! Wash and shave, eh? He's 
going to call you right away. And don't forget! Oloron! 
You will ask to go to Oloron Sainte Marie, where you can 
paint ! Oloron Sainte Marie, Basse Pyrenees ! N'oubliez pas, 
M'sieu* Jean! Et depeches-vous!" 

*'Merci Men, mon ami!" — I remember now. The little Ma- 
chine-Fixer and I had talked. It seemed that la commission 
had decided that I was not a criminal, but only a suspect. As 
a suspect I would be sent to some place in France, any place 
I wanted to go, provided it was not on or near the sea coast. 
That was in order that I should not perhaps try to escape 
from France. The Machine-Fixer had advised me to ask to 
go to Oloron Sainte Marie. I should say that, as a painter, 
the Pyrenees particularly appealed to me. *'Et qu'il fait beau, 
la-bas! The snow on the mountains! And it's not cold. And 
what mountains! You can live there very cheaply. As a 
suspect you will merely have to report once a month to the 
chief of police of Oloron Sainte Marie ; he's an old friend of 
mine! He's a fine, fat, red-cheeked man, very kindly. He 
will make it easy for you, M'sieu' Jean, and will help you out 
in every way, when you tell him you are a friend of the little 

26o The Enormous Room 

Belgian with the broken arm. Tell him I sent you. You will 
have a very fine time, and you can paint: such scenery to 
paint ! My God — not like what you see from these windows. 
I advise you by all means to ask to go to Oloron." 

So thinking I lathered my face, standing before Judas' 

"You don't rub enough," the Alsatian advised, ''il faut frot- 
ter bien!" A number of fellow-captives were regarding my 
toilet with surprise and satisfaction. I discovered in the mir- 
ror an astounding beard and a good layer of dirt. I worked 
busily, counselled by several voices, censured by the Alsatian, 
encouraged by Judas himself. The shave and the wash com- 
pleted I felt considerably refreshed. 


''Uamericain en has!" It was the Black Holster. I care- 
fully adjusted my tunic and obeyed him. 

The Directeur and the Surveillant were in consultation 
when I entered the latter *s office. Apollyon, seated at a desk, 
surveyed me very fiercely. His subordinate swayed to and 
fro, clasping and unclasping his hands behind his back, and 
regarded me with an expression of almost benevolence. The 
Black Holster guarded the doorway. 

Turning on me ferociously: "Your friend is wicked, very 
wicked, SAVEZ-VOUSr Le Directeur shouted. 

I answered quietly: "Ouif Je ne le savait pas." 

"He is a bad fellow, a criminal, a traitor, an insult to civili- 
sation," Apollyon roared into my face. 

"Yes?" I said again. 

"You'd better be careful !" the Directeur shouted. "Do you 
know what's happened to your friend?" 

"Sais pas" I said. 

''He's gone to prison where he belongs 1" Apollyon roared. 
"Do you understand what that means?" 

"Perhaps," I answered, somewhat insolently I fear. 
"You're lucky not to be there with him! Do you under- 
stand?" Monsieur Le Directeur thundered, "and next time 

I Say Good-Bye to La Misere 261 

pick your friends better, take more care, I tell you, or you'll 

"With my friend I should be well content in prison 1" I said 
evenly, trying to keep looking through him and into the wall 
behind his black, big, spidery body. 

"In God's Name, what a fool!" the Directeur bellowed 
furiously — ^and the Surveillant remarked pacifyingly: "He 
loves his comrade too much, that's all." — "But his comrade 
is a traitor and a villain!" objected the Fiend, at the top of 
his harsh voice — "Comprenez-vous ; voire ami est UN 
SALOP!" he snaried at me. 

He seemed afraid that I don't get his idea, I said to myself. 
**I understand what you say," I assured him. 

"And you don't believe it ?" he screamed, showing his fangs 
and otherwise looking like an exceedingly dangerous maniac. 

'^Je ne le crois pas, Monsieur" 

"O God's name!" he shouted. "What a fool, quel idiot, 
what a beastly fool!" And he did something through his 
froth-covered lips, something remotely suggesting laughter. 

Hereupon the Surveillant again intervened. I was mistaken. 
It was lamentable. I could not be made to understand. Very 
true. But I had been sent for — ^"do you know, you have been 
decided to be a suspect?" Monsieur le Surveillant turned to 
me, "and now you may choose where you wish to be sent." 
Apollyon was blowing and wheezing and muttering . . . 
clenching his huge pinkish hands. 

I addressed the Surveillant, ignoring Apollyon. "I should 
like, if I may, to go to Oloron Sainte Marie." 

"What do you want to go there for?" the Directeur ex- 
ploded threateningly. 

I explained that I was by profession an artist, and had al- 
ways wanted to view the Pyrenees. "The environment of 
Oloron would be most stimulating to an artist " 

"Do you know it's near Spain?" he snapped, looking 
straight at me. 

262 The Enormous Room 

I knew it was, and therefore replied with a carefully child- 
ish ignorance: "Spain? Indeed! Very interesting." 

"You want to escape from France, that's it?" the Directeur 

"Oh, I hardly should say that!" the Surveillant interposed 
soothingly; "he is an artist, and Oloron is a very pleasant 
place for an artist. A very nice place. I hardly thing his 
choice of Oloron a cause for suspicion. I should think it a 
very natural desire on his part." — His superior subsided 

After a few more questions I signed some papers which 
lay on the desk, and was told by Apollyon to get out. 

"When can I expect to leave?" I asked the Surveillant. 

"O, it's only a matter of days, of weeks perhaps," he as- 
sured me benignantly. 

"You'll leave when it's proper for you to leave!" Apollyon 
burst out. "Do you understand?" 

"Yes, indeed. Thank you very much," I replied with a 
bow, and exited. On the way to The Enormous Room the 
Black Holster said to me sharply : 

''Vous alles partirf* 

He gave me such a look as would have turned a mahogany 
piano leg into a mound of smoking ashes, and slammed the 
key into the lock. 

— Everyone gathered about me. "What news?" 

"I have asked to go to Oloron as a suspect," I answered. 

"You should have taken my advice and asked to go to 
Cannes," the fat Alsatian reproached me. He had indeed spent 
a great while advising me; but I trusted the little Machine- 

"Partif" Jean le Negre said with huge eyes, touching me 

"No, no. Later, perhaps; not now," I assured him. And 
he patted my shoulder and smiled, ^'Bon!" And we smoked 
a cigarette in honor of the snow, of which Jean — in contrast 

I Say Good-Bye to La Misere 263 

to the majority of les hommes — ^highly and unutterably ap- 
proved. ''Cest jolier he would say, laughing wonderfully. 
And next morning he and I went on an exclusive promenade, 
I in my sabots, Jean in a new pair of slippers which he had 
received (after many requests) from the bureau. And we 
strode to and fro in the muddy cour admiring la neige, not 

One day, after the snowfall, I received from Paris a com- 
plete set of Shakespeare in the Everyman edition. I had for- 
gotten completely that B. and I — after trying and failing to 
get William Blake — .had ordered and paid for the better-known 
William; the ordering and communicating in general being 
done with the collaboration of Monsieur Pet-airs. It was a 
curious and interesting feeling which I experienced upon first 
opening to "As You Like It" ... the volumes had been care- 
fully inspected, I learned, by the secretaire, in order to elimi- 
nate the possibility of their concealing something valuable or 
dangerous. And in this connection let me add that the secre- 
taire or (if not he) his superiors, were a good judge of what 
is valuable — if not what is dangerous. I know this because, 
whereas my family several times sent me socks in every case 
enclosing cigarettes, I received invariably the former sans the 
latter. Perhaps it is not fair to suspect the officials of La 
Ferte of this peculiarly mean theft; I should, possibly, doubt 
the honesty of that very same French censor whose intercept- 
ing of B.'s correspondence had motivated our removal from 
the Section Sanitaire. Heaven knows I wish (like the Three 
Wise Men) to give justice where justice is due. 

Somehow or other, reading Shakespeare did not appeal to 
my disordered mind. I tried Hamlet and Julius Caesar once 
or twice, and gave it up, after telling a man who asked 
"Shah-kay-spare, who is Shah-kay-spare ?" that Mr. S. was 
the Homer of the English-speaking peoples — which remark, 
to my surprise, appeared to convey a very definite idea to the 
questioner and sent him away perfectly satisfied. Most of the 
timeless time I spent promenading in the rain and sleet with 
Jean le Negre, or talking with Mexique, or exchanging big 

264 The Enormous Room 

gifts of silence with The Zulu. For Oloron — I did not believe 
in it, and I did not particularly care. If I went away, good; 
if I stayed, so long as Jean and The Zulu and Mexique were 
with me, good. "M'en fou pas mal" pretty nearly summed 
up my philosophy. 

At least the Surveillant let me alone on the Soi-Meme topic. 
After my brief visit to Satan I wallowed in a perfect luxury 
of dirt. And no one objected. On the contrary everyone 
(realizing that the enjoyment of dirt may be made the basis 
of a fine art) beheld with something like admiration my more 
and more uncouth appearance. Moreover, by being dirtier 
than usual I was protesting in a (to me) very satisfactory 
way against all that was neat and tidy and bigoted and sol- 
emn and founded upon the anguish of my fine friends. And 
my fine friends, being my fine friends, understood. Simul- 
taneously with my arrival at the summit of dirtiness — ^by the 
calendar, as I guess, December the twenty-first — came the 
Black Holster into The Enormous Room and with an excited 
and angry mien proclaimed loudly : 

"UAmericain! Allez chez Le Directeur. De suite." 

I protested mildly that I was dirty. 

"N'importe. Alles avec moi" and down I went to the amaze- 
ment of everyone and the great amusement of myself. "By 
Jove! wait till he sees me this time." I remarked half-audi- 
bly. . . . 

The Directeur said nothing when I entered. 

The Directeur extended a piece of paper, which I read. 

The Directeur said, with an attempt at amiability: "Alors^ 
vous allez sortir" 

I looked at him in eleven-tenths of amazement. I was 
standing in the bureau de Monsieur le Directeur du Camp de 
Triage de la Ferte Mace, Orne, France, and holding, in my 
hand a slip of paper which said that if there was a man 
named Edward E. Cummings he should report immediately 
to the American Embassy, Paris, and I had just heard the 
words : 

I Say Good-Bye to La Misere 265 

"Well, you are going to leave." 

Which words were pronounced in a voice so subdued, so 
constrained, so mild, so altogether ingratiating, that I could 
not imagine to whom it belonged. Surely not to the Fiend, 
to ApoUyon, to the Prince of Hell, to Satan, to Monsieur le 
Directeur du Camp de Triage de la Ferte Mace 

"Get ready. You will leave immediately." 

Then I noticed the Surveillant. Upon his face I saw an al- 
most smile. He returned my gaze and remarked : 

"uh-ah, uh-ah. Out." 

"That's all," the Directeur said. "You will call for your 
money at the bureau of the Gestionnaire before leaving." 

"Go and get ready," the Fencer said, and I certainly saw a 
smile. . . . 

"I? Am? Going? To? Paris?" somebody who certainly 
wasn't myself remarked in a kind of whisper. 

"Parfaitement/'—Vett\sh. Apollyon. But how changed. 
Who the devil is myself? Where in Hell am I? What is 
Paris — a place, a somewhere, a city, life; (to live: infinitive. 
Present first singular: I live. Thou livest). The Directeur. 
The Surveillant. La Ferte Mace, Orne, France. "Edward 
E. Cummings will report immediately." Edward E. Cum- 
mings. The Surveillant. A piece of yellow paper. The Di- 
recteur. A necktie. Paris. Life. Liberie. La liberie. "La 
Liberie!'' I almost shouted in agony. 

"Depechez-vous. Saves-vous, vous allez partir de suite. Cef 
apres-midi. Pour Parish 

I turned, I turned so suddenly as almost to bowl over the 
Black Holster, Black Holster and all; I turned toward the 
door, I turned upon the Black Holster, I turned into Edward 
E. Cummings, I turned into what was dead and is now alive, 
I turned into a city, I turned into a dream 

I am standing in The Enormous Room for the last time. I 
am saying good-bye. No, it is not I who am saying good-bye. 
It is in fact somebody else, possibly myself. Perhaps myself 

266 The Enormous Room 

has shaken hands with a little creature with a wizened arm, a 
little creature in whose eyes tears for some reason are; with 
a placid youth (Mexique?) who smiles and says shakily: 

"Good-bye, Johnny; I no for-get you," 
with a crazy old fellow* who somehow or other has got inside 
B/s tunic and is gesticulating and crying out and laughing; 
with a frank-eyed boy who claps me on the back and says : 

"Good-bye and good luck t'you" 
(is he The Young Skipper, by any chance?) ; with a lot of 
hungry wretched beautiful people — I have given my bed to 
The Zulu, by Jove 1 and The Zulu is even now standing guard 
over it, and his friend The Young Pole has given me the ad- 
dress of "mon ami" and there are tears in The Young Pole's 
eyes, and I seem to be amazingly tall and altogether tearless — 
and this is the nice Norwegian, who got drunk at Bordeaux 
and stole three (or four was it?) cans of sardines . . . and 
now I feel before me someone who also has tears in his eyes, 
someone who is in fact crying, someone whom I feel to be 
very strong and young as he hugs me quietly in his firm, alert 
arms, kissing me on both cheeks and on the lips. . . , 

"Goo-bye, boy!" 
— O good-bye, good-bye, I am going away, Jean ; have a good 
time, laugh wonderfully when la neige comes. . . . 

And I am standing somewhere with arms lifted up. "Si 
vous avez une letter, sais-tu, il faut dire. For if I find a letter 
on you it will go hard with the man that gave it to you to take 
out." Black. The Black Holster even. Does not examine 
my baggage. Wonder why? "Allez!" Jean's letter to his 
gonzesse in Paris still safe in my little pocket under my belt. 
Ha, ha, by God, that's a good one on you, you Black Holster, 
you Very Black Holster. That's a good one. Glad I said 
good-bye to the cook. Why didn't I give Monsieur Auguste's 
little friend, the cordonnier, more than six francs for mending 
my shoes? He looked so injured. I am a fool, and T am going 
into the street, and I am going by myself with no plant on 
into the little street of the little city of La Ferte Mace which 

I Say Good-Bye to La Misere 267 

is a little, a very little city in France, where once upon a time 
I used to catch water for an old man. . . . 

I have already shaken hands with the cook, and with the 
cordonnier who has beautifully mended my shoes. I am say- 
ing good-bye to les deux halayeurs. I am shaking hands with 
the little (the very little) Machine-Fixer again. I have again 
given him a franc and I have given Garibaldi a franc. We 
had a drink a moment ago on me. The tavern is just opposite 
the gare, where there will soon be a train. I will get upon the 
soonness of the train and ride into the now of Paris. No, I 
must change at a station called Briouse did you say? Good- 
bye, mes amis, et bonne chance! They disappear, pulling and 
pushing a cart les deaux halayeurs . r.i . de mes couilles ... 
by Jove what a tin noise is coming, see the wooden engineer, 
he makes a funny gesture utterly composed (composed silently 
and entirely) of merde. Merde! Merde. A wee tiny absurd 
whistle coming from nowhere, from outside of me. Two men 
opposite. Jolt. A few houses, a fence, a wall, a bit of neige 
float foolishly by and through a window. These gentlemen in 
my compartment do not seem to know that La Misere exists. 
They are talking politics. Thinking that I don*t understand. 
By Jesus, that's a good one. "Pardon me, gentlemen, but 
does one change at the next station for Paris ?" Surprised. I 
thought so. "Yes, Monsieur, the next station." By Hell I 
surprised somebody. . . . 

Who are a million, a trillion,, a nonillion young men? All 
are standing. I am standing. tWe are wedged in and on and 
over and under each other. Sardines. Knew a man once who 
was arrested for stealing sardines. I, sardine, look at three 
sardines, at three million sardines, at a earful of sardin^ How 
did I get here? O yes of course. Briouse. Horrible name 
"Briouse." Made a bluff at riding deuxUme classe on a 
troisibme classe ticket bought for me by les deux halayeurs. 
Gentleman in the compartment talked French with me till 
conductor appeared. "Tickets, gentlemen?" I extended mine 
dumbly. He gave me a look. "How? This is third class!" 
I looked intelligently ignorant. "II ne comprend pas frangai^' 

268 The Enormous Room 

says the gentleman. "Ah!" says the conductor, "tease ease 
eye-ee thoorde claz tea-keat. You air een tea say-coend claz. 
You weel go ean-too tea thoorde claz weal you yes pleace at 
once?" So I got stung after all. Third is more amusing cer- 
tainly, though god-damn hot with these sardines, including 
myself of course. Oh yes of course. Poilus en permission. 
Very old some. Others mere kids. Once saw a plant on who 
never saw a razor. Yet he was reforme. Cest la guerre. Sev- 
eral of us get off and stretch at a little tank-town-station. 
Engine thumping up front somewhere in the darkness. Wait. 
They get their bidons filled. Wish I had a bidon, a dis-donc 
bidon n'est-ce pas. Faut pas t'en faire, who sang or said that? 

PEE-p. ... 

We're off. 

I am almost asleep. Or myself. What's the matter here? 
Sardines writhing about, cut it out, no room for that sort 
of thing. Jolt. 


Morning. Morning in Paris. I found my bed full of fleas this 
morning, and I couldn't catch the fleas, though I tried hard 
because I was ashamed that anyone should find fleas in my 
bed which is .at the Hotel des Saints Peres whither I went in a 
fiacre and the driver didn't know where it was. Wonderful. 
This is the American embassy. I must look funny in my 
pelisse. Thank God for the breakfast I ate somewhere . . . 
?ood-looking girl, Parisienne, at the switch-board upstairs. 
"Go right in, sir." A-1 English by God. So this is the person 
to whom Edward E. Cummings is immediately to report. 

"Is this Mr. Cummings?" 

"Yes." Rather a young man, very young in fact. Jove I 
must look queer. 

"Sit down ! We've been looking all over creation for you." 


"Have some cigarettes?" 


By God he gives me a sac of Bull. Extravagant they are at 
the American Embassy. Can I roll one? I can. I do. 

I Say Good-Bye to La Misere 269 

Conversation. Pleased to see me. Thought I was lost for 
good. Tried every means to locate me. Just discovered where 
I was. What was it like? No, really? You don't mean it! 
Well I'll be damned ! Look here ; this man B., what sort of a 
fellow is he? Well Fm interested to hear you say that. Look 
at this correspondence. It seemed to me that a fellow who 
could write like that wasn't dangerous. Must be a little queer. 
Tell me, isn't he a trifle foolish ? That's what I thought. Now 
I'd advise you to leave France as soon as you can. They're 
picking up ambulance men left and right, men who've got no 
business to be in Paris. Do you want to leave by the next 
boat? I'd advise it. Good. Got money? If you haven't we'll 
pay your fare. Or half of it. Plenty, eh? Norton Harjes, I 
see. Mind going second class? Good. Not much difference 
on this line. Now you can take these papers and go to. . . . 
No time to lose, as she sails tomorrow. That's it. Grab a taxi, 
and hustle. When you've got those signatures bring them to 
me and I'll fix you all up. Get your ticket first, here's a letter 
to the manager of the Compagnie Generale. Then go through 
the police department. You can do it if you hurry. See you 
later. Make it quick, eh? Good-bye! 

The streets. Les rues de Paris. I walked past Notre Dame. 
I bought tobacco. Jews are peddling things with American 
trade-marks on them, because in a day or two it's Christmas I 
suppose. Jesus it is cold. Dirty snow. Huddling people. La 
guerre. Always la guerre. And chill. Goes through these big 
mittens. Tomorrow I shall be on the ocean. Pretty neat the 
way that passport was put through. Rode all day in a taxi, 
two cylinders, running on one. Everywhere waiting lines. I 
stepped to the head and was attended to by the officials of the 
great and good French government. Gad that's a good one. 
A good one on le gouvernement frangais. Pretty good. Les 
rues sont tristes. Perhaps there's no Christmas, perhaps the 
French government has forbidden Christmas. Clerk at Norton 
Harjes seemed astonished to see me. O God it is cold in 
Paris. Everyone looks hard under lamplight, because it's 
winter I suppose. Everyone hurried. Everyone hard. Every- 

270 The Enormous Room 


i: aliPI 

one cold. Everyone huddling. Everyone alive; alive: 

Shall I give this man five francs for dressing my hand ? B^ 
said "anything you like, monsieur." Ship's doctor's probabiy 
well-paid. Probably not. Better hurry before I put my lunch. 
Awe-inspiring stink, because it's in the bow. Little member 
of the crew immersing his guess-what in a can of some liquid 
or other, groaning from time to time, staggers when the boat 
tilts. ''Merci hien, Monsieur!" That was the proper thing. 
Now for the — never can reach it — here's the premiere classe 
one — any port in a storm. . . . Feel better now. Narrowly 
missed American officer but just managed to make it. Was 
it yesterday or day before saw the Vaterland, I mean the what 
deuce is it — ^the biggest afloat in the world boat. Damned 
rough. Snow falling. Almost slid through the railing that 
time. Snow. The snow is falling into the sea ; which quietly 
receives it: into which it utterly and peacefully disappears. 
Man with a college degree sreturning from Spain, not disagree- 
able sort, talks Spanish with that fat man who's an Argentin- 
ian. — Tinian? — Tinish, perhaps. All the same. In other 
words Tin. Nobody at the table knows I speak English or 
am American. Hell, that's a good one on nobody. That's a 
pretty fat kind of a joke on nobody. Think I'm French. Talk 
mostly with those three or four Frenchmen going on permis- 
sion to somewhere via New York. One has an accordion. 
Like second class. Wait till you see the gratte-ciels, I tell 'em. 
They say "Ouif" and don't believe. I'll show them. America. 
The land of the flea and the home of the dag' — short for dag^ 
of course. My spirits are constantly improving. Funnv^ 
Christmas, second day out. Wonder if we'll dock New Year's 
Day. My God what a list to starboard. They say a waiter 
broke his arm when it happened, ballast shifted. Don't be- 
lieve it. Something wrong. I know I nearlyf fell down- 
stairs. . . . 

My God what an ugly island. Hope we don't stay here 
long. All the red-bloods first-class much excited about land 
Damned ugly, I think. 

I Say Good-Bye to La Misere 271 

y The tall, impossibly tall, incomparably tall, city shoulder- 
lingly upward into hard sunlight leaned a little through the 
• octaves of its parallel edges, leaningly strode upward into firm 
hard snowy sunlight ; the noises of America nearingly throbbed 
with smokes and hurrying dots which are men and which are 
women and which are things new and curious and hard and 
strange and vibrant and immense, lifting with a great ondulous 
stride firmly into immortal sunlight. . . . 

O A "X 



Bli^LJiL^. .ZaT. FEB 22 1974 







Cioninings, Edward Estlin 
The enormous room